Round 9: Dragons v Sea Eagles preview
Last-start losers look to bounce back
Sitting outside the top eight following back-to-back losses respectively, the St George Illawarra Dragons and the Manly Sea Eagles will be aiming to re-enter the winner's circle at the end of round nine.
Mounting a late comeback in an otherwise poor showing during last Friday's 22-16 loss to the Raiders, the St George Illawarra Dragons will return to Kogarah for the first time since the season resumption.
Winning two of their past eight appearances at the Dragons' spiritual home ground, coach Paul McGregor will be hoping his positive record against the Sea Eagles continues on Sunday evening having won five out of eight clashes since taking the helm six years ago.
Boosted by the return of Tariq Sims from a wrist injury, Ben Hunt will start at hooker with captain Cameron McInnes wearing the number 13 jersey for the first time in his career. Jordan Pereira returns from a two-match ban in place of Jason Saab on the wing.
Unable to take advantage of an injury-hit Newcastle side during last Sunday's 14-12 defeat at Lottoland, the Manly Sea Eagles will be desperate to avoid three straight losses for the first time in Des Hasler's second stint at the club.
Holding an underwhelming overall record at Kogarah with two wins from seven appearances against the joint venture, the Sea Eagles will be chasing three straight victories at the venue following wins in 2013 and 2014.
Losing Addin Fonua-Blake for a fortnight after the Tongan international was sent-off for abusing referee Grant Atkins during last week's loss to Newcastle, Taniela Paseka comes into the starting pack with Morgan Boyle joining the bench.
Overcoming a number of injuries to become a mainstay of the Sea Eagles' second row, former Tigers playmaker Curtis Sironen will bring up 50 appearances for the club on Sunday evening.
Who to watch: Taking advantage of the opportunity to establish himself as a starting front rower, Dapto junior Blake Lawrie will be relishing the chance to go up against one of the best props in the league. Shifting into the number eight jersey following the departure of James Graham, the 23-year-old has been a quiet achiever under Paul McGregor, averaging 37 tackles and over 100 metres in a half of football each week. Contracted to the joint venture for the next two seasons, look for Lawrie to give a good account of himself as the Dragons aim to bounce back from consecutive losses.
Knocking back a lucrative offer to join the joint venture next season, Sea Eagles centre Moses Suli will be eager to rub further salt into the Dragons' wounds on Sunday evening. Playing the best football of his career under Des Hasler, the 22-year-old Tongan international has come a long way since garnering headlines questioning his commitment to the game. Running for over 120 metres per game, expect Suli to revel in his personal duel opposite Euan Aitken as the Sea Eagles chase back-to-back wins over the Dragons for the first time in six years.
My tip: With both teams needing the win to stay in touch with the eight, the class of Daly Cherry-Evans should get the visitors home. Sea Eagles by 10.