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PREVIEW | Wests Tigers vs St George Illawarra Dragons

The Tigers fight to keep their finals hopes alive as they take on the Dragons at Leichhardt Oval.

TEAM FORM GUIDE

WESTS TIGERS

Wests look to make it three wins on the trot after a good win over the Raiders last week and the Knights the week before. They are two points out of the top eight and really need to win two of their last three to be a chance and even then they are behind the Broncos on points differential so they realistically need a least one of the wins to be of a decent margin and hope Brisbane get touched up by the Rabbitohs and Roosters.

ST GEORGE-ILLAWARRA DRAGONS

To put it bluntly, Saint George have been horrible for the last few weeks. Ever since they were smashed 52-30 by Melbourne, they only have one win and that was over the now last placed Cowboys. Last week they put in their worst performance in recent memory by losing 40-4 to Parramatta, who were coming last until that big win lifted them out of the wooden spoon position on points differential. This match is significantly harder so something needs to change if the Dragons are any hope.

SQUAD NEWS

WESTS TIGERS

Mahe Fonua returns to start in the centres after recovering from a broken arm, with Kevin Naiqama shifting to the wing and Malakai Watene-Zelezniak dropping to the reserves. Chris Lawrence is back in the second row and that forces Matt Eisenhuth to the bench and Jacob Liddle back to the reserves.

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ST GEORGE-ILLAWARRA DRAGONS

Big news out of Saint George is Gareth Widdop dislocating his shoulder against Parramatta last week. He’s hoping to be back for finals, but in the meantime Kurt Mann will partner Ben Hunt in the halves. Leeson Ah Mau starts at prop with Luciano Leilua playing off the bench.

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PREVIEW

These two teams went at it back in round 18 with the Tigers upsetting the Dragons 20-16. This time around the Tigers are the favourites and have a lot more to play for than the Dragons. To be a chance of making the top 8 this year, the Tigers definitely need to win this game, and winning it by a decent margin would help their cause.

The Dragons have lost five of their last six games with last week being the low point of their 2018 season. They looked lost after Gareth Widdop went off injured with questions being asked this week about Ben Hunts’ contribution to the team after a game to forget despite his massive $1.2m per season contract.

Luke Brooks vs Ben Hunt shapes up to be one of a few intriguing positional matchups. Luke Brooks has had probably his best year since coming into first grade after a lot of hype. Some were worried that Robbie Farah returning at hooker would stifle his attack, but he has been playing some great footy this year and has formed a solid halves pairing with Benji Marshall. He is one of the best ball running halfbacks in the NRL and is deceptively fast. He is up against another great running half in Ben Hunt, who has been somewhat lacklustre since his Origin Three demotion, but can still tear teams apart when he’s on his game. He had a bad game last week so interesting to see how he handles the extra spotlight and his new halves partner in Kurt Mann. Ben will have to take on a more dominant role rather than playing off the back of his forwards.

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Matt Dufty has made a big call in that he believes that the Dragons will finish in the top four. For this to happen they really need to win their last three games of the season. History has shown us that you really need to finish in the top four to win the premiership, if the last few weeks are anything to go by the Dragons need to make some urgent changes to their game plan otherwise they will not only not make the top four but they are even a chance of missing the top eight completely if they lose their last three games and the Tigers win all of theirs.

KEY STAT

The Dragons have only beaten a top eight side away from home once this season, and it was all the way back in round two when they beat the Sharks 20-16. They are 4/11 away from home this year with their other wins coming again bottom four team the Titans, Bulldogs and Cowboys.

SQUADS

Tigers: 1. Moses Mbye 2. David Nofoaluma 3. Esan Marsters 4. Mahe Fonua 5. Kevin Naiqama 6. Benji Marshall (c) 7. Luke Brooks 8. Russell Packer 9. Robbie Farah 10. Ben Matulino 11. Chris Lawrence 12. Michael Chee Kam 13. Elijah Taylor Interchange 14. Alex Twal 15. Sauaso Sue 16. Luke Garner 17. Matt Eisenhuth 18. Jacob Liddle 19. Robbie Rochow 20. Tyson Gamble 21. Malakai Watene-Zelezniak

Dragons: 1. Matthew Dufty 2. Nene Macdonald 3. Euan Aitken 4. Timoteo Lafai 5. Jordan Pereira 6. Kurt Mann 7. Ben Hunt 8. James Graham 9. Cameron McInnes 10. Leeson Ah Mau 11. Tyson Frizell 12. Tariq Sims 13. Jack de Belin 14. Jeremy Latimore 15. Jacob Host 16. Blake Lawrie 17. Luciano Leilua 18. Zac Lomax 19. Jai Field 20. Hame Sele 21. Darren Nicholls

THE IMPORTANT DETAILS

Date: Saturday 18th August
Venue: Leichhardt Oval
Kick-off: 5:30pm
Referee: Grant Atkins (head), Matt Noyen (pocket), Nick Beashel/Dave Munro (touch), Luke Patten (video ref), Ashley Klein (senior review official)

WHO WILL WIN?

Too much to play for this week and the Tigers will be too strong with Widdop out for the Dragons. I expect the Tigers to start strong and get a 10 point win.

NRL PREDICTIONS | Round 23

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