Craig Cauchi previews the second local derby between the middle-table Cronulla Sharks and the under-achieving St George Illawarra Dragons.
TEAM FORM GUIDE
The Sharks have continued their inconsistent form that has plagued them all season. Round 20 saw them claim a huge scalp with a big win over South Sydney but quickly came crashing down to Earth with a loss to an inexperienced Penrith Panthers. While they were able to fight their way back in the second half, they’ll be hoping to take that momentum and build upon for the next few weeks.
St George Illawarra Dragons
The Dragons enjoyed their first victory in over five weeks with a 12 point win against the Titans but have been playing like a side that won’t be playing finals football. The effort has been there but their lack of intensity towards the end of matches has seen them lose close encounters to top eight sides such as South Sydney and Parramatta Eels.
Matt Moylan returns from concussion. That has resulted in Josh Dugan reverting back to his centre position and Ronaldo Mulitalo onto the reserves list. Andrew Fifita has succumbed to his knee injury with Billy Magoulias named in the starting side as his replacement from last week.
Cronulla Sharks squad: 1. Matt Moylan 2. Sosaia Feki 3. Bronson Xerri 4. Josh Dugan 5. Josh Morris 6. Shaun Johnson 7. Chad Townsend 8. Aaron Woods 9. Jayden Brailey 10. Matt Prior 11. Briton Nikora 12. Wade Graham 13. Paul Gallen 14. Kurt Capewell 15. Jack Williams 16. Billy Magoulias 17. Braden Hamlin-Uele 18. Jason Bukuya 19. Blayke Brailey 20. Ronaldo Mulitalo 21. Kyle Flannagan
St George Illawarra Dragons
Tariq Sims underwent groin surgery that has ruled him out for the remainder of this season. Blake Lawrie returns to the squad after being dropped with Luciano Leilua taking the vacant second row starting position. Zac Lomax is named in the reserve, opening up the possibility of his return from injury.
St George Illawarra Dragons squad: 1. Corey Norman 2. Jason Saab 3. Euan Aitken 4. Timoteo Lafai 5. Mikaele Ravalawa 6. Gareth Widdop 7. Ben Hunt 8. James Graham 9. Cameron McInnes 10. Paul Vaughan 11. Patrick Kaufusi 12. Luciano Leilua 13. Tyson Frizell 14. Jeremy Lattimore 15. Korbin Sims 16. Blake Lawrie 17. Jackson Ford 18. Tristan Sailor 19. Josh Kerr 20. Reece Robson 21. Zac Lomax
HEAD TO HEAD
In recent years the local derby has offered up enjoyable contests that often go against form. This will be another heated encounter with the Dragons out to spoil their neighbours chances of finishing in the top eight. The two sides met earlier this year. The Dragons went into the break 9-8 up after Ben Hunt kicked his first field goal for his career. And that was where the scoring stopped for the Dragons, with Bronson Xerri running in a hattrick of tries and the Sharks winning 22-9. The Dragons will certainly be eager to reply in enemy territory after losing on their own turf.
In a lot of ways, both teams forward packs could be seen as cancelling each other out. The Dragons have been down on form though and the experienced Sharks forwards have been aptly supported by the young brigade coming through. And with a few injuries to key forwards both sides will be digging into their forward depth to meet the challenge. Luciano Leilua is the player from the Dragons who can provide x-factor off the bench. He provides good go forward but his skill and offload can help ignite an often stale Dragons attack. Jackson Ford made his debut for the Dragons last week, given 20 minutes to test himself out in first grade, while this week will be another step up. The Sharks have an impactful bench of their own that has helped turned the tide in several games this season. Bradon Hamlin-Uele was a standout in the previous match out between these two teams. If the Sharks get off to a poor start expect them to turn to their bench early with players like Kurt Capewell and Jack Williams capable of turning the momentum of matches.
The Dragons right side defence has been exposed a number of times this year and are facing a team that has a lethal attack on the left side. Wade Graham is the left side second rower and Bronson Xerri is the left side centre. Wade Graham’s skills combine nicely with the pace of Xerri and if the Dragons are not defensively up to it than Xerri might walk away with another hattrick. Off the back of his 100th NRL game last week, Euan Aitken will need a big one if he is to contain the rookie. He will need to lead that side in defence and ensure that his first up contact sticks, otherwise it does not take much for the Sharks left side attack to get going. He will need to continue to guide Jason Saab in what will be his fourth game of first grade and his first local derby. The Dragons can also look to this side to pile pressure on the Sharks in attack too by tiring them out and making life a little easier.
THE IMPORTANT DETAILS
Date: 18th Sunday
Venue: PointsBet Stadium
Referee: Jared Maxwell, Bryan Norrie
WHO WILL WIN?
All outside factors are ignored when it comes to this encounter. It is a grudge match that will no doubt be physical. The Sharks, looking to push for a finals spot should be too good for the Dragons but expect the visitors to put in a full 80 minute performance this week as they look to end their close rivals season. SHARKS BY 4.