St. George are a top of the ladder and sitting pretty in first with just two losses to start the year. However, with Origin sides named in just two weeks, they need to take the two points this weekend before their side is decimated due to selection for higher honours. McGregor has been fortunate enough to assemble the healthiest NRL squad this year without injury thus far and their newcomer's seamless transitions have made for a tough encounter for any side they have lined up against.
The Canberra Raiders season has flirted with premature exclusion from the finals to then win 4 from 6 and sit two wins outside the top eight. Ricky Stuart must take a lot of credit for transforming their gameplan to suit their powerful runners and their naturally gifted players now have more confidence to play what is in front of them and the space of course, to use their creative spark.
2017 - Round 19 - Canberra Raiders 18 def. St. George Illawarra Dragons 14 at GIO Stadium
2016 - Round 10 - St. George Illawarra Dragons 16 def. Canberra Raiders 12 at Jubilee Oval
2015 - Round 10 - St. George Illawarra Dragons 32 def. Canberra Raiders 18 at WIN Stadium
2015 - Round 3 - St. George Illawarra Dragons 22 def. Canberra Raiders 20 at GIO Stadium
2014 - Round 23 - St. George Illawarra Dragons 34 def. Canberra Raiders 18 at GIO Stadium
Apart from the solitary win last year the Raiders have fared poorly against a Dragons side firing on all cylinders in the opening half of recent seasons, where three of the most recent clashes have occurred. The Dragons seem to have kicked the Raiders curse that saw them lose in Canberra from 2000 all the way through to 2014 and have now well and truly come out on top.
|St George Illawarra Dragons||Canberra Raiders|
|1||Matt Dufty||Jack Wighton|
|2||Nene MacDonald||Nick Cotric|
|3||Euan Aitken||Jarrod Croker|
|4||Tim Lafai||Joseph Leilua|
|5||Jason Nightingale||Jordan Rapana|
|6||Gareth Widdop||Blake Austin|
|7||Ben Hunt||Aidan Sezer|
|8||James Graham||Iosia Soliola|
|9||Cameron McInnes||Siliva Havili|
|10||Paul Vaughan||Shannon Boyd|
|11||Tyson Frizell||Joseph Tapine|
|12||Tariq Sims||Elliott Whitehead|
|13||Jack De Belin||Josh Papalii|
|14||Jeremy Latimore||Ata Hingano|
|15||Kurt Mann||Luke Bateman|
|16||Leeson Ah Mau||Charlie Gubb|
|17||Reece Robson||Dunamis Lui|
|18||Jacob Host||Liam Knight|
|19||Zachary Lomax||Michael Oldfield|
|20||Mitchell Allgood||Sam Williams|
|21||Hame Sele||Craig Garvey|
The facts that matter
St. George Illawarra Dragons
The forward battle this Sunday is as intriguing as it is pivotal with the Raiders being susceptible to losing close battles and having a weaker mentality to oppositions, a fast start should set the platform for a Dragons win.
The fitness of Ben Hunt may go a long way to deciding this battle with it seemingly impacting the entire squad last week when he was injured including Widdop who ran the show last year. Named to start Dragons fans will be praying he is at full fitness.
Have only failed to reach 20+ points twice this season a daunting prospect for their opposition and shows that one poor week shouldn't affect their confidence. The Dragons last week looked flat however they never gave in and their fight heavily outweighs the Raiders fight this season, posting points will be of no issue.
Need to produce their best to have any chance and another must is a fast start, a confidence side a few quick and early tries will set them up nicely to play their brand of football for the rest of the match. In saying that Canberra's poor game management is still a massive issue with Sezer handling this role almost solely, shut him out of the game and the Raiders are as good as gone.
The Raiders right edge defence has improved out of sight with Leilua missing just 14 tackles all season and Austin completing tackles at 75.6% efficiency, to leave them ranked with the 10th best defence in the competition. Whilst it is a far cry from premiership quality if they can further improve their defensive deficiencies they all of a sudden look a much more formidable side that can outscore anyone.
Canberra shot themselves in the foot repeatedly versus the Sharks and ultimately paid the price. Against a far superior side that the Raiders will have to be near flawless for victory.
The Dragons now sit equal on 16 points with the Panthers at the top of the ladder and whilst it won't act as motivation to perform this weekend. I cannot go past them to go back to outright leaders, Dragons by 8.