Round 13: Dragons v Roosters preview
Do-or-die for Dragons finals bid
The St George Illawarra Dragons will be fighting to keep their finals hopes alive when they host the Sydney Roosters at WIN Stadium on Thursday evening.
Sitting four points adrift of the top eight with eight rounds remaining, the St George Illawarra Dragons will need to overcome a dismal record against the reigning premiers having lost 12 of their past 16 matches in the time since the two teams last faced off in Wollongong.
Squandering their best start to a match in years in going down 32-24 to South Sydney last Thursday, coach Paul McGregor has lamented his side's inability to play for 80 minutes after establishing healthy leads over the past three weeks.
High-profile playmaker Corey Norman has been dropped with Adam Clune returning to the halves, while Trent Merrin - the only remaining member of the 2010 premiership winning team - returns in place of Jacob Host on the bench.
Sitting in fourth position after posting back-to-back wins for the first time in a month, the Sydney Roosters will head into Thursday's contest determined to remain in the hunt for the minor premiership.
Doing enough to down the Titans 18-12 at the Sydney Cricket Ground last Saturday, coach Trent Robinson will be hoping his team can improve upon an underwhelming record in Wollongong that has yielded one win and a draw against the joint venture.
Josh Morris returns after being a late withdrawal against the Titans, while Lachlan Lam replaces Kyle Flanagan at halfback in a move that sees former Dragons playmaker Drew Hutchison come into the squad for the first time in 2020.
Who to watch: Having plied his trade at fullback and on the wing prior to the season suspension, Dragons young gun Zac Lomax has thrived since reverting to the centres. Touted as a future representative player upon his debut as a teenager two years ago, the 20-year-old Temora Dragons junior has averaged 106 metres per game, while kicking at 76 per cent to sit as the competition's equal third leading point-scorer ladder. Contracted to the joint venture until the end of 2025, look for Lomax to revel in his personal duel opposite Josh Morris on Thursday night.
As the only club to feature in every season since the birth of rugby league in Australia, the Roosters will add another piece of history to their ranks when Mitchell Aubusson becomes only the third player to reach 300 first grade appearances for the club. Joining Luke Ricketson and Anthony Minichiello as triple centurions for the tricolours, the 32-year-old utility has been an unsung legend of the NRL since making his debut in 2007. Continuing to add value to Trent Robinson's team with 24 tackles per game, Aubusson will be sure to go about his work without fanfare as the Roosters strive to record a third consecutive title.
My tip: Having dominated the Dragons over the past decade, the sense of occasion should see the Roosters finish as convincing victors. Roosters by 14.