Two traditional rivals, with a history almost as long as the game, will square off at the famous Sydney Cricket Ground this Friday night as the merged St George Illawarra Dragons hark back to their famous St George days against the equally well-known cardinal and myrtle green of the South Sydney Rabbitohs.
The Dragons have had a far more enjoyable 2017 campaign than the Bunnies, who are languishing down in the lower reaches of the NRL ladder and face the prospect of a season without finals footy. In contrast, the Red V were, at one point, the in-form team in the league and while they suffered a fairly dramatic dip, there is still some hope that they have arrested their slide and will be a strong unit from here on out.
The Dragons cracked the half-century mark two weeks ago against the Sea Eagles but were brought back down to earth with a controversial loss to the Knights at the McDonald Jones Stadium last week, while the Bunnies couldn’t overcome the Raiders on home turf last Saturday night.
The big concern for the Dragons is the fast-finishing Penrith Panthers, who are now behind them on points difference alone, meaning they will need to win the majority of their remaining games to confirm a finals berth.
2016 – Rd 11 South Sydney 34 def. St George Illawarra 24 at ANZ Stadium
2016 – Rd 3 St George Illawarra 8 def. South Sydney 6 at Sydney Cricket Ground
2015 – Rd 19 South Sydney 24 def. St George Illawarra 8 at Sydney Cricket Ground
2015 – Rd 9 South Sydney 16 def. St George Illawarra 10 at ANZ Stadium
2014 – Rd 12 South Sydney 29 def. St George Illawarra 10 at ANZ Stadium
The Bunnies hold a distinct advantage over the Dragons in the last few years, winning five of the past six meetings while also taking the spoils one of the last two Sydney Cricket Ground clashes.
The Dragons last won this fixture at the famous SCG back in 2016, when they held off the Bunnies in a low-scoring affair, which finished 8-6.
Over the 27 games the merged club has played against South Sydney, the Dragons have won 16 and lost 11.
Leeson Ah Mau
Jack de Belin
|Tariq Sims||14||14||Robbie Farah|
|Jacob Host||15||15||George Burgess|
|Russell Packer||16||16||Kyle Turner|
|Kurt Mann||17||17||Cameron Murray|
|Hame Sele||18||18||Anthony Cherrington|
|Taane Milne||19||19||Jack Gosiewski|
|Jake Marketo||20||20||David Tyrell|
|Luciano Leilua||21||22||Campbell Graham|
The Facts That Matter
St George Illawarra Dragons
The Dragons have named an unchanged lineup from last week’s controversial loss to the Newcastle Knights. While there was an element of controversy in the manner of defeat, the fact remains that the Dragons didn’t protect or respect the football anywhere near enough to win an NRL game as a competent Newcastle side got the job done.
While coach Paul McGregor’s pocket will be about $10,000 lighter, there are no injury concerns for the Dragons and they are expected to kick-off with the same side from one to 17.
I expect Jake Marketo will be among the four dismissed when the cut-down takes place but his efforts for the Illawarra Intrust Super Premiership team have him on the cusp of first grade footy.
The Dragons have thrived on the back of strong forward charges and plenty of second-phase play this season and they will likely want to stick to the same formula this week, against a Bunnies side which has been exposed a few times this season in defence and attack.
Canberra used second-phase footy well in their win against the Bunnies last week, and could have drawn up the perfect approach for McGregor and his team this Friday night.
Paul Vaughan, Russell Packer and Jack De Belin have been the heart of the go-forward for the Red V and the platform they lay down will be crucial again this week as they go toe-to-toe with the big Burgess brothers.
South Sydney Rabbitohs
The Bunnies were fairly average last time out and weren’t helped by the sin binning of Angus Crichton and a high-shot on halfback Adam Reynolds.
Reynolds, Crichton and Sam Burgess (rib injury) are all set to take on the Dragons while Dave Tyrell drops back to the reserves list, replaced by Zane Musgrove as the starting prop alongside Tom Burgess.
There are few clubs that appeal to the traditionalist more than the Rabbitohs, so any return to the Sydney Cricket Ground, the original home of the rugby league grand final, always feels like a boost to the Bunnies on and off the pitch.
The fact that the SCG is closer to their traditional base of Redfern than their current lodgings at ANZ Stadium also helps and plenty of the inner city battlers who are attracted to the red and green will make their way out for a Friday night of footy.
Before last season’s Dragons win, and Greg Inglis’ infamous field goal despite being two points behind, the Bunnies had won five in a row at the venue and could cause an upset on a wave of emotion this weekend.
On the field, South Sydney have been average at best and will need to provide halfback Reynolds with more options and attacking outlets to turn things around.
This could be an absolute gem of a game with all the ingredients for a fiery contest. If South Sydney turn it on, a potential upset could be on the cards, which would not only hurt the Dragons, but also lend a helping hand to the teams chasing eighth place on the ladder.
That said, I’m tipping the Dragons in a tight one, by less than four points.
Who will come out on top in this epic heritage clash, the Dragons or Bunnies? Let us know in the comments and poll below.
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