Sydney Roosters vs St George Illawarra Dragons: Lineups, preview and predictions

Allianz Stadium, Sunday 29th July, 4pm AEST.

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Overview

Round 20 concludes fittingly with an absolute cracker of a match between traditional rivals, the Roosters and Dragons. Both teams are in the top 4 and are coming off last start victories against teams who are desperate to avoid the wooden spoon. A win for either side will go a long way towards consolidation of a top 4 berth. 

The Roosters come into this match on the back of a 56-24 demolition of the Sea Eagles at Lottoland. Having returned to the winners’ circle the week prior, the tricolours seemed highly determined to build fresh momentum in the remaining weeks of the regular season. It will set them up nicely for not only this big match, but also for the remainder of the season, as half their remaining matches are away from home. 

The Dragons enter this match, having returned to the winners’ circle, courtesy of accounting for the Cowboys 24-10 in Townsville. The win came on the back of a stellar performance from Tariq Sims, who terrorised the Cowboys with his hard running and bruising defence, leaving many of his former teammates bruised. It also meant that the Saints were able to claim a rare victory in the tropics, and jump into 2nd on the ladder, aided by a loss by fellow top four contenders, the Rabbitohs. 

The recent match was quintessentially held on Anzac Day this year, and it was the Dragons who triumphed in that encounter. However, the Roosters have surged into the top 4 since that loss, which served as a reality check for the Chooks. The tricolours have only lost twice since then, against the Broncos and Storm. In fact those aforementioned matches were incredibly close, that they could have gone the way of the Chooks. Conversely, the Dragons have had somewhat of a mixed bag since their Anzac Day win, with some convincing and unconvincing wins, and a few defeats. This match will be a litmus test to determine the real progress of each team. 

Recent meetings 

2018 – Round 8 – St George Illawarra Dragons 24 def. Sydney Roosters 8 at Allianz Stadium. 

2017 – Round 8 – Sydney Roosters 13 def. St George Illawarra Dragons 12 at Allianz Stadium. 

2016 – Round 24 – Sydney Roosters 42 def. St George Illawarra Dragons 6 at Allianz Stadium. 

2016 – Round 8 – St George Illawarra Dragons 20 def. Sydney Roosters 18 at Allianz Stadium. 

2015 – Round 15 – Sydney Roosters 19 def. St George Illawarra Dragons 14 at Allianz Stadium. 

The Roosters have had the wood over the Dragons in their most recent encounters, winning 3 of the past 5 matches. In fact, since 2011, the Roosters have been the dominant team out of the two, winning 9 of the 14 matches. However, it’s the Dragons who lead the overall head-to-head encounters, winning 20 of them, while the Roosters won 17 matches, followed by a draw in 2000. There is an abundance of history between these two rivals, and it predates the merger between the St George Dragons and the Illawarra Steelers. 

The Roosters and Dragons have met on several occasions prior to the merger in 1999, and one match that Roosters fans will forever savour (particularly those who were around) is the grand final in 1975, when the Roosters (then known as Eastern Suburbs) absolutely demolished the Dragons 38-0, in what was a record grand final score. However, Dragons supporters don’t have to look too far back for their recent premiership victory, which came against the Roosters 32-8 in 2010, breaking a drought stretching back to 1979 for St George. 

Selected teams

Sydney Roosters St George Illawarra Dragons
1 James Tedesco Matt Dufty
2 Daniel Tupou Jordan Pereira
3 Latrell Mitchell Euan Aitken
4 Joseph Manu Tim Lafai
5 Blake Ferguson Jason Nightingale
6 Luke Keary Gareth Widdop
7 Cooper Cronk Ben Hunt
8 Jared Waerea-Hargreaves James Graham
9 Jake Friend Cameron McInnes
10 Siosiua Taukeiaho Paul Vaughan
11 Boyd Cordner Tyson Frizell
12 Ryan Matterson Tariq Sims
13 Victor Radley Jack de Belin
Interchange
14 Isaac Liu Jeremy Latimore
15 Zane Tetevano Kurt Mann
16 Mitchell Aubusson Leeson Ah Mau
17 Kurt Baptiste Luciano Leilua
Reserves
18 Nat Butcher Patrick Herbert
19 Matt Ikuvalu Blake Lawrie
20 Dylan Napa Jai Field
21 Lindsay Collins Zac Lomax

 The facts that matter

Roosters

The Roosters have continued their strong form over the last couple of months, with a commanding 56-24 victory over the Sea Eagles. Had Latrell Mitchell not missed the conversion attempts that he did, the tricolours would have surpassed the 400 point mark for the season. Nevertheless, that does not detract from the impressive nature of the win, coupled by the fact that the Chooks had solidified their top 4 spot. The likes of Cooper Cronk and James Tedesco are definitely justifying their hefty price tags with some impressive performances. 

After a rather stuttering start to their season, the Roosters have surged into the top 4 on the back of some sizzling form. Looking into the statistics, it’s rather apparent as to the reasons for this. The tricolours are ranked equal 4th in tries scored (64) and 5th in overall points scored (398), as well as 1st in defence, conceding the fewest points in the competition (263). In addition, they are ranked in the top 5 in key statistics such as post contact metres, metres gained, kick return metres, try assists, kick metres and charge downs. Although they have been plagued by making the most errors in the competition, they appear to be on track to rectifying this issue over the last fortnight, by having completion rates above 80%. This suggests the Chooks are hitting form when it matters the most. 

The Roosters have a rather solid record at home this season, having won 6 matches at home, while dropping half as many. However, 2 of those 3 home losses were at Allianz Stadium, with the other home loss coming against the Storm in Adelaide. Those 2 losses at Allianz Stadium occurred early in the season, against the Warriors and fierce rivals, the Rabbitohs. Moreover, they occurred prior to their loss to the Dragons, when their form was indifferent. As such, they have not dropped a match at Allianz Stadium since. 

Dragons

The Dragons arrested a two-match losing streak, by accounting for the hapless Cowboys in Townsville. Despite their recent wobbles, the Saints demonstrated the reasons for their lofty position, by repelling the attacks by the Cowboys, as well as holding them scoreless in the second half. It proved to be valuable, as they returned to the top of the ladder, albeit for only 24 hours, due to the Storm defeating the Warriors the next day. Nevertheless, they finished the round in 2nd place. Moreover, they would nab a rare win in tropical North Queensland. 

The high position of the Saints is hardly surprising, given they are ranked 3rd in tries scored (69), 2nd in overall points scored (441), as well as 4th best in points conceded (316). In addition, there are several key statistics which further elucidate why the Dragons are placed as high as they are. Some of them include: tackle breaks (682 – 1st), metres gained (28211 – 2nd), post contact metres (9265 – 2nd), kick return metres (3007 – 5th), offloads (228 – 2nd), try assists (49 – 5th) and kick metres (4th – 8585). One statistic that is not so favourable for the red and whites is the number of ineffective tackles (295 – 3rd most). 

The away record of the Dragons reads 4 wins and 4 losses. Although they improved their away form last week, this is still the worst of the teams in the top 8. Their lone away victory against a top 8 side came against bitter rivals, the Sharks in round 2. However, that was when the Sharks were yet to hit their straps. As such, their comparatively poor away record may count against them in the finals, where there is every chance they may end up playing as the visiting team. 

Prediction

It is quite fitting that round 20 should conclude with an absolute blockbuster of a match between two of the competition’s heavyweights. Both sides will be eager to consolidate on their placings in the top 4, especially given that both desire to take out the premiership, and a top 4 finish would be more accomodating for this. Another mouthwatering aspect of this match is the key matchup between the halfbacks of each side, Cooper Cronk for the Roosters up against Ben Hunt for the Dragons. This is a chance for Cronk to show Hunt that he still has it at 34, and for Hunt to prove to Cronk that he is a worthy heir apparent to the halfback position for Queensland and Australia. 

Although the Dragons won the last encounter between the two sides, that was when the Roosters’ form was rather inconsistent. Ever since then, the Chooks have only dropped 2 matches, both of which could have easily gone their way, while winning 8 of their other matches since. As such, the tricolours have been in sizzling form of late. Conversely, the Dragons have had a bit of an up and down run, dropping a few matches in the process, whilst barely scraping through for a win in some other matches. 

There is plenty of rivalry in this match, given the long history between the sides, including the pre-merger day’s of the Dragons. Therefore, it should be of no surprise that the players of each side will be eager to belt the living daylights out of each other. However, whilst the Dragons will be eager to do the double over another of their fierce rivals, their recent form is not the same as it was at the beginning of the season. Conversely, the Roosters appear to be hitting their straps, and are in the midst of some red-hot form. Therefore, it is very difficult to ignore the sensational form of the Roosters, who will be eager to atone for their Anzac Day loss, which is why I feel compelled to tip the Roosters to triumph in a titanic struggle. Roosters by 2

Who will come out on top in this mammoth clash between the Chooks and the Dragons? Let us know in the comments below.

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