Round 17: Dragons v Raiders preview
Finishing off Round 17 is a trip to beach.. I mean Wollongong. St George Illawarra in desperate need to remain in the hunt for the top eight while the Raiders are flying high in fourth.
The Dragons sit four points outside the promise land after their origin-affected loss to the Storm. The Joint Venture welcome back all their origin stars plus James Graham and Tariq Sims from injury and suspension respectively which will boost them.
Success isn't just a goal, it is an expectation with a Dragons side that has flattered to deceive despite their signings. There was the shuffle of their spine which was more erratic than a teenage playlist compounded with the constant musical chairs that is their backline which has seen the calls for ‘Fail Mary' to ripple.
St George Illawarra have a modest run home so they need to start putting some results together with Ben Hunt and Corey Norman taking charge of the side and especially Hunt, as the ‘marquee' signing knows the pressure is on, and with the stars littered across the field, failure will be seen as a black mark for the side.
In contrast, the English invasion of the nation's capital has been a success. Ricky Stuart has fished where the fish are since recruiting Josh Hodgson from the old dart in 2014. This season has seen a pair of dynamic forwards in John Bateman and Ryan Sutton which has lifted the side that lost over half-a-dozen games by less than six points last season into a top four side.
The other shining light is Charnze Nicholl-Klokstad. The former Warrior who signed early in pre-season has added an extra dimension to the well-stocked attack. His almost Gumby-like nature to slip defenders just adds to their backline depth and if their halves can remain solid, should have the Raiders fighting deep into September.
One worry for Stuart is their lapses in concentration which cost them against Parramatta and Cronulla. When the pressure games come into view, points become harder to construct so defense becomes priority so a game against a desperate Dragons side is perfect for that.
It's been more than a year since these two sides met in a tense contest in Mudgee.
Who to watch: All the troops are back for the Saints (barring late withdrawals after Origin) so it is time for the side that was pegged to be top eight at the start to show their worth. That will fall on their forward pack. James Graham is listed in the extended squad alongside Tyson Frizell and Paul Vaughan, against a mobile Raiders pack will have to punch through the line to give the Queensland representatives a chance to create points and make it two out of three in the ‘gong.
For the Raiders, coming off a week to freshen up the Green Machine will eye this fixture as a way to widen their gap to the bottom of the top eight. The spotlight will on their defense after in the last fortnight they have shot out to leads before getting run down. That starts with their halves Jack Wighton and Aiden Sezer especially after the mid-week signing of English stand-off George Williams which leaves the rest of the season an audition to see who might partner him next season.
My tip: Since the famous ‘hoodoo' (which had plagued the Dragons since their Joint Venture began) ended, the red and white side has held it solidly over the Green Machine. But the 2019 Dragons haven't clicked into gear often while the Raiders have shown consistency and should score enough points to tame the Red V. Raiders by 10.