Craig Cauchi previews the local derby between the St George Illawarra Dragons and Cronulla Sharks with both sides hit hard by injuries and form.
TEAM FORM GUIDE
St George Illawarra Dragons
Before Anzac Day, the Dragons were on a four match winning streak and looking to cement a top eight spot. Since then they have lost four straight, culminating in a far from impressive performance against the Knights at Mudgee. Now, their position in the race for finals footy looks as shaky as their defence. They’ll be hoping for a few players to return from injury but need to be aware, that returning players aren’t necessarily the answer to a return in form.
The Sharks have been resilient and shown great depth and character in recent weeks. Despite losing a few star players, they have been able to win their games, including their two-point victory over the Melbourne Storm. They came down a little bit with their loss to the Sea Eagles but they’ll be eager to put that performance behind them and return to the form they were showing beforehand. And there would be no match better than this one.
St George Illawarra Dragons
Paul McGregor expressed that there would be changes to the side after their Round 10 loss and he has stuck with his words. Zac Lomax moves into the fullback position vacated by Matt Dufty. Euan Aitken moves back into his centre position while Jonus Pearson will make his Dragons debut in a straight replacement for Mikaele Ravalawa. Reece Robson takes the utility spot on the bench and Korbin Sims returns from injury to take the final bench spot.
St George Illawarra Dragons squad: 1. Zac Lomax 2. Jordan Pereira 3. Euan Aitken 4. Timoteo Lafai 5. Jonus Pearson 6. Jai Field 7. Ben Hunt 8. James Graham 9. Cameron McInnes 10. Paul Vaughan 11. Tyson Frizell 12. Tariq Sims 13. Blake Lawrie INTERCHANGE 14: Luciano Leilua 15. Jacob Host 16. Reece Robson 17. Korbin Sims RESERVES: 18. Josh Kerr 19. Mitchell Allgood 20. Mikaele Ravalawa 21. Matt Dufty
Coach John Morris has stuck with the same 17 that lost against the Sea Eagles on Sunday. He will be hoping the team will look to fire up after their disappointing performance. There’s a chance that Matt Moylan, named in the reserves, might be available for his return from injury.
Cronulla Sharks squad: 1. Josh Dugan 2. Sosaia Feki 3. Bronson Xerri 4. Josh Morris 5. Aaron Grey 6. Kyle Flanagan 7. Chad Townsend 8. Andrew Fifita 9. Jayden Brailey 10. Matt Prior 11. Briton Nikora 12. Kurt Capewell 13. Paul Gallen INTERCHANGE: 14. Blayke Brailey 15. Jayson Bukuya 16. Jack Williams 17. Braden Hamlin-Uele RESERVES 18: Scott Sorenson 19. Sione Katoa 20. Billy Magoulias 21. Matt Moylan
HEAD TO HEAD
The local derby between these two sides have produced some quality contests. And while last years matches went the way of the Dragons, they were both hard fought battles. None more than the round 2 clash, where the Sharks put in a nearly perfect first half performance, to watch their lead be chased down in the second half. But if the Dragons are looking to turn around their fortunes than they would most likely be looking for a repeat of their round 6 match, where they won that 40-20. There is strong history between these two sides and the Sharks will definitely be looking to fix the past few years results, with the Dragons holding a good recent record in the derby.
The Dragons defence needs to stand up. They have leaked far too many easy tries in the last few weeks and their communication out wide appears lacking. The Sharks have some quick and creative outside backs that can tear the Dragons apart if they aren’t switched on. The side singled out the easy points they gave away off the back of mistakes and penalties as a part of their game that has dropped off. It will be this and other defensive deficiencies that the Dragons will be focusing on this week. The Dragons have the engine room to go the full 80 but have yet to prove it against any top quality opposition. And with Corey Norman and Gareth Widdop still a few weeks away from a return, Dragons half Ben Hunt needs to take the match and make it his own. The Dragons will need him to bring a strong kicking game and for him to keep taking on the line.
The Sharks will be looking for their outside backs to get in and help their forwards. They have some speed to burn out wide and if the pack can gain the early momentum, their speed up the middle could cause heaps of trouble for the Dragons. The Sharks will find a lot of success up the middle if they keep at it. Expect them to test the new combinations out wide too if they get an early chance at the Dragons line but if it doesn’t work out Cronulla won’t mind getting into a grind. The simple message from John Morris will be to bring the energy from the start and take it to the Dragons from the opening whistle.
THE IMPORTANT DETAILS
Date: Sunday 26th May
Venue: WIN Stadium
Referee: Adam Gee, Gavin Badger
WHO WILL WIN?
The Dragons hit bottom last week and will be looking to restore pride in their team and in their supporters. The Sharks will be determined to avoid back-to-back losses and a slide of their own. There are big stakes in a match that doesn’t need much more conflict than there already is. The Dragons need to prove that they are still a top eight side and with the players they have, they will be fired up. DRAGONS BY 10.