Under siege and their season slumping St. George Illawarra Dragons travel to salvage a home final opportunity against the Newcastle Knights at McDonald Jones Stadium on Saturday.
TEAM FORM GUIDE
Newcastle was matched with a red-hot Cronulla side at their home ground and held their ground for an hour of the game. The Knights were testing the Sharks for the majority of the match even with key players out injured, although Valentine Holmes tore their defence to open up more scoring with three late tries to the home side and winning 38-12.
St. George had everything to play for and honour of Lance Thompson while having Jason Nightingales last home match of his career to hold a top-four spot. The win against the Tigers was a false sense of form by the Dragons with the Bulldogs leading 18-0 at the half. Many thought Dragons could scrape home to find a win in the second half but continuing errors and lack of attacking flair had Dogs pile on 20 more points to win 38-0.
Jack Cogger replaces Connor Watson (groin) at five-eighth. Lachlan Fitzgibbon (concussion) is also done for the year with Jamie Buhrer taking his starting second-row spot. Luke Yates drops off the bench with Jacob Lillyman and debutant Tom Starling is on the bench.
Zac Lomax replaces Euan Aitken (hamstring) at centre. Jason Nightingale (elbow) is out with fullback Matt Dufty back in the run-on side and Jai Field called up on the bench. Blake Lawrie replaces Jacob Host on the bench. Luciano Leilua has been named on the bench with Leeson Ah Mau in the starting side despite the pair being switched back on game day.
The last regular season round has many crucial matches to form the outcome of a tight top 8, Dragons will take on a battling Knights outfit returning to their home in Newcastle. The old boys day will be a highlight for many Novacastrians cheering on those past players and the team in the last match of their 2018 campaign, the matchup against the Dragons who have fallen from grace could see Knights get a victory to end on a high. The previous result in round 4 against these sides has no bearing with the St. George side looking tiresome and down on the confidence which had them flying in the opening rounds coming first overall.
A game with much to play for with retiring players for the Knights, Dragons are hoping to find just their second win in their last six matches to try to lift themselves and host a first-round finals match in what will be a desperate visiting fixture. A big clash for this game will be between two key players who have done a lot of work in holding their sides together and also impacting the result to get the wins on the board, backrowers Tyson Frizell and Aidan Guerra have been monumental in their performances in 2018 and will hold the fortunes of success in round 25 for Dragons or the Knights.
A new member coming into the 2018 Knights outfit, Aidan Guerra has been a staple to the side playing every match with consistency. The veteran backrower has made more tackles this season than any other before in his 8-year career with 921 tackles made while scoring 5 tries, three of those in their last five games. If Knights are to cause an upset at home they will need Guerra to be taking on as much responsibility in defence through the middle or edges to stop the Dragons massive pack but also calling for the ball with his line running to try to inspire his side.
Tyson Frizell in an up and down year with both Dragons starting well or finishing poorly while being a part of the NSW winning origin side, he has gone to another level being a leader by example. The backrower has been versatile in the last month moving to the front row but also playing his usual back row or lock role, doing everything he can to lift his team from slumping out of the competition. Frizell’s tackling technique is one of the best in the league with 91% efficiency which has stopped many opportunities by the opposition and will be no different against a young exuberant Knights outfit looking to spoil the Dragons run to finals. The Dragons forward needs to punch through the Knights defence with his attacking options in his damaging line running he does off the ball or supporting any breaks through sheer effort from a great club man.
Chris Heighington and Jacob Lillyman both play the last match of their career.
Knights: 1. Nick Meaney 2. Ken Sio 3. Sione Mata’utia 4. Cory Denniss 5. Shaun Kenny-Dowall 6. Jack Cogger 7. Mitchell Pearce 8. Herman Ese’ese 9. Danny Levi 10. Daniel Saifiti 11. Jamie Buhrer (c) 12. Mitchell Barnett 13. Aidan Guerra
Interchange: 14. Tom Starling 15. Chris Heighington 16. Jacob Lillyman 17. Josh King
Dragons: 1. Matthew Dufty 2. Nene Macdonald 3. Zac Lomax 4. Timoteo Lafai 5. Jordan Pereira 6. Kurt Mann 7. Ben Hunt 8. James Graham 9. Cameron McInnes10. Leeson Ah Mau 11. Tyson Frizell (c) 12. Tariq Sims 13. Jack de Belin
Interchange: 14. Jeremy Latimore 15. Jai Field 16. Blake Lawrie 17. Luciano Leilua
THE IMPORTANT DETAILS
Date: Saturday 1st September
Venue: McDonald Jones Stadium
Referee: Henry Perenara
WHO WILL WIN?