The final game in round 14 of the NRL shapes up as something of a mismatch as the lowly and financially crippled Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs take on the second-placed St George Illawarra Dragons.
Both sides had players involved with State of Origin, with the Dragons contributing forwards Tyson Frizell, Jack De Belin and Paul Vaughan for New South Wales, and halfback Ben Hunt for Queensland whilst the Bulldogs only had bookend David Klemmer involved for the Blues.
However, the lengthy turnaround means that all those involved with Origin are expected to turn out for their respective club sides in this game. In addition, with both teams coming off the bye in round 13, one would expect that all those named to play in this game will be fresh and raring to go.
2017 – Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs 26 def. St George Illawarra Dragons 20 at ANZ Stadium
2017 – Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs 16 def. St George Illawarra Dragons 2 at ANZ Stadium
2016 – Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs 13 def. St George Illawarra Dragons 10 at ANZ Stadium
2016 – Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs 36 def. St George Illawarra Dragons 16 at ANZ Stadium
2015 – Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs 29 def. St George Illawarra Dragons 16 at ANZ Stadium
The Bulldogs have proven themselves to be a bogey team for the Dragons in recent times.
In their last meeting in round 26 last year, St George Illawarra were expected to dispose of their less-fancied opposition and cement their spot in the top 8. However, the Bulldogs were able scrape home with a tight 1-try win, thus ending the Dragons’ season.
St George Illawarra Dragons
Gareth Widdop (C)
Josh Jackson (C)
Jack De Belin
Leeson Ah Mau
The facts that matter
The Bulldogs may have had the wood over the Dragons in recent years. But the fact remains that right now they are running second-last, and are facing the very real possibility of not being competitive for a number of years due to the shape that Des Hasler and the previous board left the club’s salary cap in.
A prime example of this is the fact that the Bulldogs are paying a part of their former captain turned Dragons’ front rower James Graham’s salary this year. With speculation mounting that star player Moses Mbye and new recruit Aaron Woods could both be on the move before June 30 in order to clear salary cap space, one could forgive the Bulldogs players if the last thing they had on their mind was football.
Rookie coach Dean Pay spoke about a return to the “Dogs of War” mentality that was highly prevalent in the successful Bulldogs team of the mid-90s, of which he was a part. It’s fair to say that this hasn’t yet been sighted in 2018. But with their backs against the wall, this would be the time to bring it out. It’s now or never for the Bulldogs.
Michael Lichaa’s return to the NRL side after several weeks in the Intrust Super Cup means that the Bulldogs will likely focus their attack around his dummy-half running game. If Klemmer and Woods are able to set him a good enough platform, he is quick and dangerous enough to make the best forwards in the competition look silly.
St George Illawarra Dragons
It was only a month ago that the Dragons were considered by many to be the competition’s benchmark after convincingly beating last year’s premiers Melbourne. Since then, their consistency has wavered somewhat, losing to Souths, beating Canberra and losing to Penrith.
Souths and Penrith are both undoubtedly serious premiership contenders this year, and in terms of effort, the Dragons hardly disgraced themselves in either of those losses. But their once all-conquering attack did seem to become quite predictable against these top teams.
The Rabbitohs and Panthers were able to shut down the Dragons’ attack by simply rushing them and reducing the amount of time Hunt and Widdop had to play football. Are the Bulldogs good enough to employ the same tactic? They need to be if they want to win this game.
For the Dragons, this is a must-win game. They had a great start to the season, and have now entered the difficult Origin period. If they want to cement their status as premiership contenders, it starts with beating lowly teams like the Bulldogs.
The Dragons may have been inconsistent in the last month. But the way the Bulldogs have played this season, they are almost unbackable.
In addition to their poor form, the Bulldogs are missing star half Kieran Foran. Instead they will be directed around the park by inexperienced halves pairing Jeremy Marshall-King and Matt Frawley.
The Dragons’ NSW players will be fired up after a big win on Wednesday night, while Ben Hunt too will look to continue his fine form after being one of QLD’s best.
St George Illawarra by 13+ in one.
Who wins this Queens Birthday Monday afternoon blockbuster, the Bulldogs or the Dragons? Let us know in the comments and the poll below.
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