The Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs play host to the St. George Illawarra Dragons at ANZ Stadium in the Queen’s Birthday public holiday clash this Monday (10th June, 4pm kick-off).
The ‘Dogs will be looking to go one better following a 12-10 loss at home to the Canberra Raiders in Round 12.
“Devastated.” That was the word from Dean Pay following the Bulldogs narrow loss to the Raiders at ANZ Stadium last week. The Dogs once again suffered from the aftereffects of a slow start, finding themselves 10-0 down at half-time courtesy of tries to Sebastian Kris and John Bateman. The home side finally had themselves on the board in the 58th minute after Jack Cogger sliced through a sea of green to score before Marcelo Montoya crossed four minutes later, with a Rhyse Martin conversion levelling proceedings. The comeback wasn’t to be however, as a Jarrod Croker penalty with 10 minutes to play secured a hard-fought win for the Canberra outfit. Six first half errors will leave Dean Pay ruing wondering what could’ve been, but the coach insisted his young side will come good when fronting the media post-game.
“We’re young and we are still developing in our footy, we need to get some more consistency with what we are doing,” said Pay. “We just need to keep at it, keep developing and it will turn, we will get a couple of results that we are looking for.”
And the Queens Birthday clash seems to be the perfect opportunity to get one of those results, as they come up against a Dragons side who have lost five straight and find themselves seriously lacking depth as injuries and Origin duty take their toll. The Bulldogs will again be without winger Jayden Okunbor as he continues his recovery from injury, while Dylan Napa’s role remains dependent on his involvement in game one of this years Origin series on Wednesday night, although he is expected to play.
Meanwhile an increasingly anxious Dragons side will be keen to snap a losing streak that threatens to devastate their chances of playing finals football this season. They’ve suffered five straight defeats, leaving them 13th on the NRL Ladder, two points adrift of a finals spot and well behind all their nearest competitors in terms of point difference. They will however be well rested after a bye week and the return of five-eighth Corey Norman who hasn’t played since round 8.
Ben Hunt has been a shining light for the Dragons this season. He has three tries and seven try assists in his 11 appearances so far in 2019 and has performed admirably in recent weeks despite his sides poor run of results. Hunt’s form saw him selected as Queensland’s starting hooker for game one, meaning he will be playing his second game in five days if he is to turnout on Monday afternoon. Meanwhile St. George are also boosted by the return of the aforementioned Corey Norman, who will seek to recapture the form that saw he and Hunt form such a devastating partnership in the early stages of 2019.
Paul McGregor took the reigns at St. George Illawarra midway through the 2014 NRL season and has been in the role ever since. His first senior coaching role in the NRL, McGregor lead the club to its first finals appearance in four years when they finished 8th in 2015. McGregor was no stranger to the Dragons when taking the reigns as head coach, having played 158 games for the club (124 – Illawarra Steelers, 54 St. George Illawarra Dragons), in addition to acting as the club’s strength and conditioning coach between 2002 and 2009, a role he also held with the NSW Blues. As a coach McGregor has a record of 61 wins and 63 losses from 124 games, giving him a 49% win percentage.
The Dragons have been devasted by injury this season. Gareth Widdop is out until August having had surgery on a serious shoulder injury suffered earlier in the year, while former Bulldog James Graham misses out after suffering a fractured fibula against the Sharks that will keep him sidelined for 6-8 weeks. Tim Lafai joins them in the casualty ward, he will miss six weeks with a syndesmosis injury also suffered against Cronulla. State of Origin has also taken its toll, with star halfback Ben Hunt, Paul Vaughan and Tyson Frizell all selected. Dragons coach Paul McGregor will remain hopeful his Origin trio pull up well from game one and will be available to pull double duty on Monday against a hungry Bulldogs side.
Key Matchup – The Five-Eighths:
It will be Norman vs Foran in an exciting battle of the five-eighths in this Monday afternoon blockbuster. The Dragons are boosted greatly by the return of the influential Norman, who hasn’t played since suffering a fractured cheekbone in round 8. He boasts 6 try assists and a further 7 line-break assists in 8 appearances this season and will be a welcome addition to a team that have lost every game since his injury. Meanwhile the Dogs will be hoping Foran can fire and lead his side to victory. He has three try assists since his return from injury in round 9, including two in an excellent display in the Bulldogs comeback win away to the Gold Coast Titans in round 10. Since then Foran has shown glimpses of his brilliance but ultimately has not yet been able to inspire another win. Interestingly, he made 116 running metres against the Raiders, the first time he has broken the 100m mark this season. The forward packs will play the role of infantry in this battle, looking to win the war in the middle of the park and open the space for the creative forces to work their magic.
The sides last met in Round 5 this season, with St. George registering a 40-4 victory over the ‘Dogs. Ben Hunt scored twice and assisted a further three times in his best individual performance so far this season. It was all downhill from there however, as a narrow win the next week over Manly preceded five straight losses that have sent shock waves through a side that is now in serious danger of missing the finals. Their loss is the Bulldogs gain however, who will feel as though they are a strong chance against a wounded Dragons side who are low on both manpower and confidence heading into the Queen’s Birthday battle.