NRL Preview Rd 13: Knights v Dragons

09/06/2013

NRL Preview Rd 13: Knights v Dragons

St George Illawarra couldn’t have picked a better time to head to Newcastle given it’s their honey hole.  The 13th placed Dragons are in Struggle Street with only a win against the lowly Eels in the last six games and now the whole Jamie Soward situation has just added to the drama coming from Red V headquarters.

Soward, who has already signed with Penrith for next season, is well and truly on the nose and has been dumped from the top grade. Two years ago he was playing in Origin, now he’s headed for the NSW Cup and it leaves the Dragons with a less than threatening halves pairing of Nathan Fien and Chase Stanley.

A woeful performance against the Panthers and a pretty lacklustre offensive display against the Bulldogs in the last fortnight have shown even the most ardent Dragons fans that finals football would be a minor miracle in 2013 for the Dragons.

The seventh placed Knights on the other hand could still feature heavily in the end of season games if they could just find some consistency. They’ve now lost four of their last five games including the last two to the Warriors and Rabbitohs but at home they’ve been pretty impressive, winning five from six.
 
To maintain the home dominance they’ll have to break the Dragons hoodoo.
St George Illawarra has a 12-2 record against the Knights in Newcastle and has won eight in a row at the venue. They have also already beaten the Knights this year with a 19-16 win at Kogarah improving Steve Price’s record over former boss Wayne Bennett to 3-0!

Newcastle will be without the likes of Kurt Gidley, Akuila Uate, Danny Buderus, Alex McKinnon, Beau Scott and Matt Hilder to injury. The participation of Origin players Darius Boyd, Brett Morris and Trent Merrin will be dictated by how they pull up.

Looking at key stats we find the Knights are:
* averaging 22.2 points a game (fourth in the NRL) while the Dragons score a paltry 14.8 (15th)
* conceding less points with 18.1 a game (7th) while the Dragons at 20.2 (12th)
*  making more metres and concede less than the Dragons
* making more and conceding less line breaks
* making much fewer errors

You can be sure the Knights will try to play the Wayne Bennett way – that is minimise errors and just choke the other team out of the game. With not much good to speak of for either team in the last month we will focus on some weaknesses the other team will look to exploit.

The Dragons attack has been pretty useless in recent weeks. They scored zero against Penrith and then the first try against the Bulldogs came from a dropped ball. If they are to have some success in attack they should look to target the defence of a few specific Knights.

The first guy to single out is a former teammate in Adam Cuthbertson. The big unit can find himself a shade off the pace in defence and has also been in the vicinity of a few tries the last few weeks. Against the Warriors in round 11 Sam Rapira crashed over when Cuthbertson made a poor read as the ‘B’ defender in the line, shifting out before checking off on Rapira. Late in the same match Elijah Taylor punched through a hole from a Shaun Johnson short ball to score. It was between Cuthbertson and another defender with some issues in halfback Tyrone Roberts.
Against the Bunnies last week Roberts had his bum saved in the first half when Joey Leilua grassed Nathan Peats after he went past Roberts outside shoulder.
But just a few minutes later John Sutton had scored with a little bit of footwork against Cuthbertson who was over chasing and was stepped with ease.
Cuthbertson isn’t the only big guy the Dragons can target. Isaac Luke had a great game engaging markers and creating breaks and space last week and Mitch Rein should be excited. Big David Fa’alogo was expertly caught out. After being involved in a three man tackle Fa’alogo had to get back to ‘A’ defender quickly and Luke noticed, jumped out from dummy half, engaged the markers and sent George Burgess in behind the ruck. The big Bunny was able to bolt past Fa’alogo and continued to steamroll to a four pointer.
 
On the other side of the coin the Knights will be looking to test Chase Stanley. He has been a weak link in defence at centre in recent weeks and while it remains to be seen where he will defend as five-eighth he’ll still need to read things better. Last week he jammed in on the Bulldogs poorly allowing Tim Lafai to get his first try and against the Panthers he was a culprit in the opening try when he overcommitted to helping on the inside. The Knights would have been relishing targeting Soward as well but now don’t have that chance.

Bennett will also be hoping for a bit more energy from his team in the little things. Against the Bunnies there were far too many times where decoy runners looked exactly like that, decoys. They were lame ducks and failed to run with energy or passion. How will you suck in defenders if you don’t appear ready to get the ball?

So the verdict here is likely to be a curse-breaking one. The Dragons have given zero reason to believe they can snap out of this funk and with the shake up and distractions during the week it could prove tougher still. Looking at the side you wonder where the points are going to come from… the back three have great skills but you got to get the ball to them.

The Knights should help Bennett to his first win over the Dragons since leaving. Probably by at least eight points.