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PREVIEW: St George-Illawarra Dragons vs Newcastle Knights

The clash between St George-Illawarra Dragons and Newcastle Knights will have no bearing on the final eight.  This match will see the farewell of retiring Knights skipper Jeremy Smith with Benji Marshall likely to join them in the coming weeks.  Ben Creagh declining a farewell game for the Dragons.

LAST TIME OUT

St George-Illawarra Dragons faced Parramatta Eels in the farewell to Pirtek Stadium played on Monday night.  It was a night dominated by Bevan French who played at fullback for the first time at the Eels.  French scoring a hat-trick as they ran out 30-18 winners.  A double to Kurt Mann in the final five minutes of play restored some pride for the Red V. This game gave Drew Hutchinson an opportunity to partner Gareth Widdop in the halves as the club moves on from the Benji Marshall era.

Newcastle played their final home game of 2016 against the improving South Sydney Rabbitohs.  Despite starting the game strongly it was another loss for the Knights – their seventeenth on the trot in going down 12-34.  Newcastle blooded Dylan Phythian who can play fullback or in the halves, scored on debut.  Not the result that Jeremy Smith wanted as he played his final game at home but he did kick the final conversion for the game. Another excellent crowd which would make some Sydney teams worried considering the smaller crowds posted at suburban grounds with stronger playing rosters.

KEY BATTLE

The battle of the halves is where this game is won.  No doubt Benji Marshall will be out to have a bit of a party, pulling all sorts of tricks out of the bag to entertain the faithful.  Gareth Widdop on the other hand will be looking for position, position, position as they try to pin Newcastle down in the corners of their own half.  Jarrod Mullen’s role will be to get the ball out to Dane Gagai, Nathan Ross and Brendan Elliot while Trent Hodkinson will play the ‘Widdop’ style game.

Keep an eye on the battle between Mitch Barnett and Tyson Frizell in the second row. There’s a lot to like about Barnett, a product of Taree.  He brings much needed aggression into the Knights pack.  For Frizell it’s been a breakthrough year at Origin level and expect him to try and out muscle his counterpart.

PREDICTION

How much it would be great for Newcastle to end their seventeen match losing streak you get the feeling it will be all about Benji Marshall.  Dragons will be too strong.

Dragons by 16

SQUADS

Dragons: 1 Josh Dugan 2 Kurt Mann 3 Euan Aitken 4 Taane Milne 5 Jason Nightingale 6 Gareth Widdop (c) 7 Benji Marshall 8 Leeson Ah Mau 9 Mitch Rein 10 Michael Cooper 11 Tyson Frizell 12 Ben Creagh* 13 Jack De Belin. Interchange: 14 Joel Thompson 15 Will Matthews 16 Jacob Host 17 Jacob Marketo 19 Siliva Havili 20 Timoteo Lafai 21 Luciano Leilua
* already ruled out

Knights: 1 Jake Mamo 2 Nathan Ross 3 Dane Gagai 4 Peter Mata’utia 5 Brendan Elliot 6 Jarrod Mullen 7 Trent Hodkinson (c) 8 Daniel Saifiti 9 Tyler Randell 10 Jacob Saifiti 11 Sione Mata’utia 12 Mitchell Barnett 13 Jeremy Smith (c) Interchange: 14 Dylan Phythian 15 Pat Mata’utia 16 Korbin Sims 17 Sam Mataora 18 Joshua King 19 Jaelen Feeney

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