Dragons v Wests Tigers Preview
Wed, 23 Jun 2010 15:01
Dragons v Wests Tigers
WIN Jubilee Stadium
Could this battle of first versus third be a sneak preview to the premiership decider on October 3?
Two fit, entertaining teams on a combined seven-game winning streak lock horns at Kogarah with the minor premiership firmly in their sights as we head into the business end of the season.
Wayne Bennett’s Dragons remain the litmus test for all sides in 2010. While not earth-shattering this past month, they have nonetheless eked out a hat-trick of wins (over the Eels, Warriors and Sharks) to sit alone in top spot on 24 competition points.
The coaching staff are doing their best to manage injuries and fatigue during the Origin period – they’ve lost centre Matt Cooper for an extended period with a hamstring tear, while last week prop Michael Weyman was rested after Origin against the Sharks.
But it’s a stronger unit this week, with Weyman’s return pushing the impressive Trent Merrin (163 metres last week) to the bench, while Dean Young returns at lock after a week out with injury. Jon Green is the only addition to their five-man bench, which jettisons Jake Marketo.
Meanwhile the Wests Tigers (20 competition points) have shown a combination of grit and flare in compiling four straight wins. Some consider they were lucky to gain the result over the Raiders at Leichhardt Oval last Sunday, but in the end they maintained their composure, pulled out a special play and escaped with the points. That’s what identifies the contenders at this stage of the season.
Personnel-wise they retain the same 17 from last week, although Keith Galloway has been named to start at prop. Todd Payten drops back to the second row, bumping Mark Flanagan to the bench.
The clash marks the 300th first grade game, including finals series, played by St George Illawarra since their inception as a joint venture in 1998.
Also, Jamie Soward needs just one goal for 600 career goals. He’ll be “in the pink” and primed for the occasion, resplendent in pink V jersey (like all his team) and pink headgear to mark the NRL’s Women in League Round.
Watch out Dragons: Wests Tigers hooker Robbie Farah will leave nothing in the tank in an effort to force his way back into the NSW side for Origin III, with selectors scheduled to announce the squad on Monday Night.
Farah’s biggest strength is his ability to read a game and make the telling play when it’s required. He’s a good runner from dummy-half, but certainly not as prolific (75 runs ranks him sixth in the comp) as in recent years. But his real value is in knowing when to run, and when it will result in an attacking opportunity – hence his four dummy-half line-breaks (second in the NRL).
Watch out Wests Tigers: Their biggest hurdle isn’t a Dragons player but rather the atmosphere of the opposition venue – in their past three games at WIN Jubilee Oval the Wests Tigers have been outscored 120-48.
Coach Tim Sheens acknowledged the Tigers’ fans were largely responsible for helping them to a scrappy win last week, but given it will be a sea of red (well, pink) and white at Kogarah, he’s been drumming into his side the importance of shutting out distraction and executing their plays the best they can.
They’ll need to up their average 72 per cent completion rates here. Sheens knows the Dragons (79 per cent) will give his side nothing but scraps, so the importance of completing sets and gaining good field position becomes paramount.
Where it will be won: The Dragons need to slow down the pace of the play-the-ball and also shut down Benji Marshall (12 try assists, fourth in the comp; 11 line-break assists).
Meanwhile, the Wests Tigers need to bring their best kicking game (currently 72 per cent to open space, ranked fourth in the comp) and hem the Dragons deep in their territory, forcing them to kick on the last tackle rather than initiate one of their trademark left-side scoring sweeps (31 scored left to just 12 on the right).
With Farah calling the shots at dummy-half the Dragons defenders need to win the wrestle and give their line time to reset before the next play-the-ball.
The Dragons have only had to make 308 tackles at marker, but Sheens may train his men on the ruck and see what it yields, given no side has had great success against Wayne Bennett’s side in 2010 and their marker tackles tally is the sixth fewest made by any team in 2010.
Expect a big game from Ben Creagh, who we feel has been unfairly targeted following the Blues’ loss in Origin II. What the stats don’t show (or rather, they do if you care to look at the right ones) is his tremendous work rate off the ball in attack.
Creagh’s 63 decoy runs are the most in the comp. Given he’s a devastating edge runner capable of busting the defence close to the try line, this makes him even more of a danger. Expect him to be more go-to man than decoy in this encounter.
The history: Played 18; Dragons 9, Wests Tigers 9. The Wests Tigers are a bogey side for the Dragons; they’ve won three of the past four, and six of the past eight clashes between the sides – although the Dragons hold bragging rights after a 21-10 win at the SFS last year.
The Dragons hold a 2-1 advantage in games at Kogarah.
Conclusion: The Dragons should have their opposition’s measure in the backs, although they’ll need to be mindful of letting winger Lote Tuqiri getting away into space (eight line-breaks).
It all comes down to whether or not they can nullify the Tigers and get on top in the first 20 minutes – latest stats show that the Dragons are the best in the game at strangling teams out of the contest after building an early lead. To date, they’ve led on six occasions after 20 minutes, for six wins.
The Tigers aren’t as dependable, winning five times after leading after the first quarter on seven occasions.
A tough game to pick, but should you opt for the Dragons you won’t lose too much ground in your tipping comp should the Tigers prevail.
The last word: if you’re thinking of having a flutter consider plonking some cash on a field goal being kicked – the Wests Tigers have five for the year while Jamie Soward has kicked three for the Dragons.
Match officials: Referees – Shayne Hayne & Jason Robinson; Sideline Officials – Jeff Younis & Gavin Morris; Video Ref – Paul Simpkins.
Televised: Channel Nine – Live 7.30pm; Fox Sports – Delayed 11.30pm.
Laurie Daley’s preview:
St George Illawarra v Wests Tigers, WIN Jubilee Oval, Friday 7.35pm (EST)
First versus third so it should be a great game. The Tigers are undefeated since they were hammered by the Rabbitohs back in round 10 but I am not sure how convincing some of their wins have been. They haven’t played too many top sides yet. With Robert Lui not available they will have to do it without a halfback. The Dragons just continue to roll on. They give you nothing and they defend sensationally well. They will frustrate the Tigers and get the points.
“Expect a big game from Ben Creagh, who we feel has been unfairly targeted following the Blues’ loss in Origin II. What the stats don’t show (or rather, they do if you care to look at the right ones) is his tremendous work rate off the ball in attack.
Creagh’s 63 decoy runs are the most in the comp. Given he’s a devastating edge runner capable of busting the defence close to the try line, this makes him even more of a danger. Expect him to be more go-to man than decoy in this encounter.”
Another Ben Creagh apologist, Ben Creagh is a myth. 63 Decoy runs?? He’s a forward isn’t he
Preview: Dragons v Wests Tigers
VENUE & TIME: WIN Jubilee Oval, Friday, June 25, 7.35pm (AEST).
COVERAGE: Channel 9
HEAD TO HEADPlayed 18, Dragons 9, Tigers 9
LAST TIME: Dragons 21 – Tigers 10 at SFS, Round 16, 2009
WALKING WOUNDED: The Dragons welcome back forwards Michael Weyman and Dean Young from injury, while Jon Green gains a spot on the bench. Centre Matt Cooper remains on the sideline with the hamstring injury he picked up in Origin II. The Tigers have released an unchanged line-up for this match, but there remains grave concerns over the fitness of half-back Robert Lui who picked up a badly corked knee last Sunday. With first-choice No. 7 Tim Moltzen already out for the season and Aaron Taumata recently released to the Cowboys, coach Tim Sheens has been left with a couple of options; whether to move skipper Robbie Farah to the half-back role or giving youngster Blake Lazurus another start in the position. Lote Tuqiri (knee), Chris Heighington (hip) and Wade McKinnon (knee) all picked up injuries last week, but are expected to play.
FORM: The Dragons were made to fight all the way in a torrid local derby battle against the Sharks last Sunday. They were well below their best in attack, but made up for that with some gritty goal-line defence, repelling several Sharkies’ raids to finish 22-4 victors. The win was the Dragons’ third on the trot since their Round 11 loss to the Raiders. Backed by a jam-packed Leichhardt Oval crowd and leading 6-0 after just four minutes, the Tigers looked set for a massive win over the Raiders last Sunday, but they did not cross the try-line again until the 75th minute when they finally re-gained the lead. Hardly convincing, but a result that did confirm four wins in a row for a club that usually cops a bagging for being inconsistent.
WHO’S HOT: The Dragons didn’t produce too many attacking highlights last Sunday against Cronulla, but full-back Darius Boyd was as dangerous as ever from the back. Fresh from his QLD Origin triumph, Boyd accumulated 183m from 17 runs and played a role in one of the Dragons’ four tries in the game. Without doubt the most improved player this season and much-deserved Dally M leader after 15 rounds. Beau Ryan has spent much of the season at full-back and performed admirably in the position. But he looks far more comfortable on the wing as was the case at Leichhardt Oval last Sunday when he crossed for two tries – his first for the day clicking the Tigers’ club over to 1000 four-pointers since the joint-venture began back in 2000.
WE THINK: The Tigers have surprisingly won six of their past eight matches against the Dragons, but with question marks over the fitness of half-back Robert Lui, the task of extending their recent domination over St George Illawarra is likely to become a great deal more difficult. While Lui is not considered a major force in attack, his steady game complements the likes of Marshall and Farah and the results are on the board this season for the Tigers when he is in the team. Expect the committed and well-structured Dragons’ defence to stifle Wests’ potentially slick attacking game. Dragons by 14.
St George Illawarra Dragons v Wests Tigers
June 24, 2010 - 8:18PM
Friday, WIN Jubilee Stadium, 7.35pm
Referees: Shayne Hayne and Jason Robinson
Head to head: Dragons 9, Tigers 9
Last clash: Dragons 21-10 at SFS (rd 16, 2009)
TAB SportsBet: Dragons $1.38, Tigers $3
FootyTab: Tigers +7.5
This shapes as a very intense match. Both teams have the potential to score plenty of points, but don’t be surprised if it ends up a relatively low-scoring affair. The Dragons have easily the best defence in the competition, and the Tigers have defended very well during their current, four-game winning streak. After their season reached the crossroads with a 50-10 loss to the Rabbitohs, the Tigers have conceded just 32 points in those four wins over the Knights, Warriors, Bulldogs and Raiders.
The Dragons march on. They hit a hurdle during the early stages of the representative season, when they lost to the Sea Eagles with a lot of players backing up from rep games the night before and others out injured, and their rep players were unavailable when they were beaten by the Raiders, but in the wake of State of Origin I they have won three in a row, over the Eels, Warriors and Sharks. This will be the biggest test the Tigers have had this season. The Dragons deserve clear favouritism at home.