While the 2018 #NRL Pre-Season is still a few weeks away, there's a bunch of warm-up clashes happeni...
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Another week has passed and another spanner has been thrown into the make up of the top eight. The St George Illawarra Dragons have lost two on the trot and have now slipped out of the top four. The plot as to who will come away with the title thickens once more.
WESTS TIGERS VS ST
GEORGE ILLAWARRA DRAGONS
I'm not going to lie: I was only able to watch the first half of the Dragons' match against the Rabbitohs last week, so all I saw was a dominant and clinical football team going about their business with great efficiency. The Dragons' success has been on the back of their ability to put together such a performance for the entire game of football, not just the first half. Call it what you will - a flat spot, an Origin hangover - but this dip in form has come at a very inopportune time.
Manly dropped a game against the Tigers last week, and the Storm may lose one between now and round 26, but that will not faze them as they march into the finals. The Dragons would have felt the same way going into the Rabbitohs match. Now it's two losses in a row and things will start to feel a little different. A single loss in the latter stages of the regular season does not hurt a team on top of the table; often it can give them the motivation and desire to take their game to the next level needed to win a premiership. But to lose two in a row is a different story.
Up against the Dragons' clinical game is the unpredictable skill of the Wests Tigers. On their day the Tigers are world-beaters, but they also have a tendency to take one too many chances at times when they don't need to. When they come off successfully, the Tigers' brand of football is one of the best to watch: it's exciting, flamboyant and very ad-lib.
So in many ways we have a match up between a team considered to be one of the most exciting in the NRL and a team whose attack is considered to be boring. Let me ask you this though: over the last three years, who has won more games?
Excitement and out-of-your-seats action is what we as fans live for, but it doesn't always win you games. However, the Tigers are a team that can do freakish things that are unable to be countered by their opposition defence. On the other hand, the Dragons win through a mixture of patience, high-percentage football and a belief in their game plan. A successful team should have a good combination of both of these elements, but do either of these teams have that at the moment?
Considering that one team is on the slide and the other is on the ascension, the importance of this game for both sides is going to result in some great Rugby League whatever way you look at it.
VS NORTH QUEENSLAND COWBOYS
The Cowboys have done what many thought was impossible and have won more games than they have lost in the absence of their injured halfback and co-captain, Johnathan Thurston. This is a huge boost for their confidence in the run into the finals; if a team can win games without their most influential player, imagine what they can do with him back?
With Thurston on the sidelines, fullback Matt Bowen has taken on the playmaking responsibility in attack as well as his custodian role in defence, and his performances over recent weeks have been some of his best.
The Bulldogs sit four points out of the top eight but can still make the finals if they fire now. Realistically, I don't see how they can off the back of their season so far. But if they can somehow shut Bowen down, they will be in with a chance. Even though that's a task that's much harder to achieve than it is to write about, the Bulldogs have got to start winning however they can. Otherwise their slim chances of finals football will continue slipping away with each and every week.