Round 10: Dragons v Sharks preview - 2017 Indigenous Round
Unusual timeslot greets derby combatants for second big clash of 2017.
Could it be just a little bit of history repeating at Kogarah on Friday evening? When these teams faced off seven rounds ago, the Dragons were coming off a disappointing loss in Wollongong and the Sharks were last-start winners. Granted things are quite different as we head into this one - but who doesn't love a bit of statistical fun?
The outlook isn't great for the Dragons if we're honest. They've lost key men in Gareth Widdop and Josh Dugan in recent weeks, and the Sharks are on the surge having downed the Wests Tigers last week. The boys in the Red V have managed to maintain second spot ahead of their beachside rivals on for and against, built up over their golden run which indeed started with that Round 3 victory.
Cronulla are an enigma at the moment. They downed a valiant Wests Tigers side last start, but prior to that fell to a Titans side sitting near the bottom of the table. Their last convincing showing came in Round 7 against a listless Panthers side - and despite the omissions for the Dragons it's hard to see them getting such a leisurely run with their opponents this weekend.
The Dragons surprised the Sharks in Round 3 after having lost to Parramatta a week earlier, but the Sharks' form has turned around dramatically since that time. Overall these teams have met 39 times since the Dragons' joint venture beginnings in 1999, with the Red V holding a narrow advantage 20 wins to 18, one match drawn. Kogarah isn't a happy hunting ground for the Sharks, with 25 losses from 39 matches at the venue since 1967.
Who to watch: If the Dragons are going to stand up and take this game to their neighbours, the quality of their forward pack needs to shine. Vaughan, Frizell, Thompson, de Belin and Packer all need to produce the goods - and they'll be ably assisted by Tariq Sims and Leeson Ah Mau. With one of the best packs in the game, the job should be made easy for halves Kurt Mann and Josh McCrone together with hooker Cameron McInnes.
A welcome sight in the #11 black-white-and-blue jumper will be veteran back-rower Luke Lewis. Having missed the last month of footy through injury, his presence will no doubt bolster the Sharks pack which has been patchy at delivering for the side over the last few rounds. His influence on the rest of the pack will be important too - as will his work in defence on the edges.
My tip: If you tip purely on form and the sides named, Cronulla would win in a canter. The fact this is a derby and the Dragons still have an outstanding forward pack narrows that margin... but the Sharks should still get the two points. Sharks by 4.