preview by Sam Dasey
Saturday night will see St George Illawarra Dragons hosting the Cronulla Sharks in a local Derby. Both sides desperate will be desperate for victory, the Dragons to restore some pride, and the Sharks to stay in touch with ladder leading Melbourne. The home side will welcome back some firepower this weekend, with Origin stars Josh Dugan and Tyson Frizell to return for St George as well as second rower Joel Thompson. The Sharks will welcome back Michael Ennis’ direction around the ruck, following the hooker being a late withdrawal in the loss to the Raiders, while Ricky Leutele has been added to the bench in place of Fa’amanu Brown, and Joseph Paulo replacing Sam Tagatese, with Tagatese sustaining a serious shoulder injury last start.
LAST TIME OUT
The two sides last met way back in round 2 with Cronulla running away with a commanding 30-2 win at home in an impressive performance. In between that time, they went on a 16 match unbeaten streak, before finding themselves thoroughly out enthused by a Canberra side who sounded their own premiership aspirations via a 30-14 victory in the Shire. For the Dragons, a miserable run of five straight losses has the Red V looking forward to 2017, with finals now impossible for the side to make. They would, however, like nothing more than to spoil their arch rivals run to the Finals, and will expect a vocal crowd to cheer them towards a possible upset.
Mitch Rein vs Michael Ennis
The Cronulla Sharks will gladly welcome back Michael Ennis, who was sorely missed in the loss to the Raiders following a late withdrawal from the clash. Dragons starting hooker Mitch Rein will surely have his work cut out competing with the Cronulla great. Both players have different roles within their team, with Rein making a lot more in roads from dummy half (making 1122 running metres and 31 tackle breaks) , while Ennis has a key role in the Sharks attack, assisting in nine tries and putting in 64 kicks throughout 2016. While their styles differ, both teams rely on their work on the ruck for their go forward.
Benji Marshall vs Chad Townsend
Benji Marshall and Chad Townsend appear to be at completely different stages in their careers. A star for many years, Marshall has struggled to light up the field since joining the Red V, despite showing brilliance at times. Townsend, on the other hand, is a star on the rise, bursting on to the scene in 2011, before switching to the New Zealand Warriors to ply his trade, and returning to Cronulla for 2016. He has been an understated hero of the Sharks positive season, scoring six tries and assisting in another eleven, on top of running for 1100m during the season. Add to that his impressive workload in defence, where he has made 450 tackles and missed just 46 and his stocks have well and truly risen. Marshall has found himself in and out of the side through injury and form, playing 600 less minutes than Townsend as a result. He has still managed to assist in seven tries, however, and break 29 tackles along the way, showing he still has some of that ability that made him the face of the game at the Tigers. He will need to improve on those stats, however, if his team are to make inroads against a solid Cronulla defence.
A lot has been said about the Sharks loss last week against the Raiders, and whether they have now spoilt their Premiership aspirations. This week really will be the key to their hopes for the season, win handsomely and the pressure will ease, allowing the side to enjoy their football again. The expectation was high, and although they denied they needed to lose, now they have, they must refocus and respond in a positive fashion. The forward pack rolled straight over the top of the Dragons forwards last time they met, and it is hard to see this dose not repeating. And if it does, expect the likes of Ben Barba to ignite the Sharks attack again and push the Sharks towards a confidence restoring victory.
Sharks by 18
Dragons: 1. Josh Dugan 2. Kurt Mann 3. Euan Aitken 4. Taane Milne 5. Jason Nightingale 6. Gareth Widdop 7. Benji Marshall 8. Russell Packer 9. Mitch Rein 10. Michael Cooper 11. Tyson Frizell 12. Joel Thompson 13. Jack de Belin. Interchange: 14. Tariq Sims 15. Will Matthews 16. Jacob Host 17. Jake Marketo 21. Luciano Leilua
Sharks: 1 Ben Barba 2 Sosaia Feki 3 Jack Bird 4 Gerard Beale 5 Valentine Holmes 6 James Maloney 7 Chad Townsend 8 Andrew Fifita 9 Michael Ennis 10 Matt Prior 11 Luke Lewis 12 Wade Graham 13 Paul Gallen Interchange: 14 Ricky Leutele 15 Chris Heighington 16 Jayson Bukuya 17 Joseph Paulo
|UOW Jubilee Stadium|
|65 Jubilee Ave, Carlton NSW 2218, Australia|