Round 8: St George Illawarra v Wests Tigers preview
Two joint venture sides who came off chastening losses head down to the city by the sea - Wollongong - looking to bounce back on Sunday afternoon.
The Dragons were extinguished in the traditional ANZAC Day contest which made it back-to-back defeats for the club after their unexpected positive start to the season (even for this previewer). Coach Anthony Griffin decided to play mad libs with his line-up which didn't help (also having Jordan Pereira sin binned and some paper-thin defense contributed)
Luckily for Griffin, his jewel in the crown for his early 2010s Broncos cosplay is back. Ben Hunt will again partner Corey Norman in the halves and hopefully continue his hot start to the year. His return also allows Jack Bird to play in his preferred backline spot.
Another big component of the Dragons 4-3 start to the season has been their defense. It has been ferocious and bent both the opponents and the rule book. They have used the new interpretation of the set restart rule to impose themselves and if they do it this weekend, it will be fruitful against a timid Tigers side.
Tigers fans must feel like they are stuck in a perpetual Groundhog Day after the last few weeks. They pushed the rampant Rabbitohs before losing in bizarre fashion then getting walloped by the Sea Eagles which has put the axe right above the head of coach Michael Maguire.
The cycle started with excitement in pre-season quickly followed by crushing performances in the first two weeks, a slight blip when they beat the hi-vis Knights then their limp surrender at Leichhardt on a day to honour a legend. Throw some dice in the air and whatever number which comes up might be how committed they turn up on Sunday.
One bright spot has been fullback Dane Laurie who has shone since his move from Penrith locking up the fullback spot while five-eighth Adam Doueihi has out-played Luke Brooks in his appearances thus far. The Tigers need the rest of their experienced core to play to their expectations to get anything out of a contest against a stubborn Saints side.
Last meeting: Round 1 2020 - Dragons 14 Wests Tigers 24
Who to watch: It is a warm welcome back for Dragons captain Ben Hunt. The halfback returns from his leg injury after a month off. Hunt was playing some impressive football under new coach Anthony Griffin and he will take the reigns of the side again to push them forward. The other Dragon to keep an eye on is winger Max Feagai who fills the spot vacated by Mikaele Ravalawa's suspension. Feagai is highly touted and will be ready to show his wares against a porous Tigers defense to placate the loss of Ravalawa's tries and carries.
For the Wests Tigers, their backline is the centre of attention. Joseph Leilua who was dropped a few weeks back gets his reprieve from coach Michael Maguire. Leilua has been grabbing headlines for the wrong reasons thus far but if he can find some balance, he would be a handful for the Dragons attack alongside another struggling backline member James Roberts. The Jet hasn't had lift off thus far this year and must also be on thin ice.
The favourite: Despite their back-to-back losses, the Dragons still sit remain in the top eight. The Tigers have been battered both on field and in the media. Dragons should start this contest warm favourites.
My tip: The return of Hunt for the hosts, and the Tigers' off-field dramas looking to show no sign of abating - Saints should get the dub. St George Illawarra by 6.