ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA DRAGONS v NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS
Round 21, 2015 NRL Premiership
Date: Sunday August 2, 2pm
Venue: Jubilee Oval
Referee: Grant Atkins
Last time they met:
The Dragons adapted to horrendous weather conditions best in Round 5 to beat the Knights 13-0 at Hunter Stadium.
Of the 30 times these two sides have met, the Knights have won 10. However, the red and blues have won three of their six games at Jubilee Oval.
1. Kurt Gidley (c), 2. Jake Mamo, 3. Sione Mata’utia, 4. Dane Gagai, 5. Chanel Mata’utia, 6. Carlos Tuimavave, 7. Tyrone Roberts, 8. Kade Snowden, 9. Adam Clydsdale, 10. Korbin Sims, 11. Beau Scott, 12. Tariq Sims, 13. Jeremy Smith. Bench: 14. Tyler Randell, 15. Dave Fa’alogo, 16. Chris Houston, 17. Clint Newton.
1. Josh Dugan, 2. Justin Hunt, 3. Euan Aitken, 4. Peter Mata’utia, 5. Jason Nightingale, 6. Gareth Widdop, 7. Benji Marshall, 8. Leeson Ah Mau, 9. Mitch Rein, 10. Ben Creagh (c), 11. Tyson Frizell, 12. Joel Thompson, 13. Mike Cooper. Bench: 14. Jack de Belin, 15. Jake Marketo, 16. Craig Garvey, 17. Will Matthews, 18. Mark Ioane.
According to interim head coach Danny Buderus, the Round 21 clash against the Dragons shapes as an important chapter in the Club’s history.
While this Sunday may not bare much resemblance to the 1997 Grand Final or the team’s inaugural season in 1988, it provides an important opportunity for the playing group to draw a line in the sand.
Buderus has called on the team to display the mentality and attitude upon which the Club was built.
“It was a very disappointing performance against the Rabbits and there’s been a fair bit of feeling after the decision for Rick to leave,” Director of Football Michael Hagan explains.
“I think the players have got to accept some of the responsibility for that and try and get their heads around the next chapter.
“They owe it to themselves, the fans and the Club to pull together and come up with a good performance.”
While the Dragons have lost their last seven games running – conceding 156 points in the process – they will be a tough opposition this weekend.
The spine of the Dragons is as dangerous as any in the competition and no doubt they will be as desperate as the Knights to get a result.
“They’ll be looking to come out of their slump somewhere and they might see this game as an opportunity to get their year back on track,” Hagan agrees.
“There’s no secrets about the motivation they’ll have and we’ve got to take that into account.”
It is a high stakes match for both sides, and for that reason Buderus has gone for as much experience as possible in his line-up.
Veteran forwards David Fa’alogo, Chris Houston and Clint Newton have all been named on the bench while senior statesmen Beau Scott, Kade Snowden and Jeremy Smith will be in the thick of things from kick-off.
“All those players that have been named are all very much capable first-grade players and demonstrated only a fortnight ago what they can do,” Hagan says.
“You don’t lose your ability overnight, it’s about mentality and the effort you’re prepared to give.
“Danny has been around the NRL for a long time and understands that.”
That said, the side also contains the likes of Jake Mamo, Sione and Chanel Mata’utia, Tyler Randell and Adam Clydsdale, all of who are 22 or under.
They push down the average age of the side to 26, and provide the youthful exuberance to match the experience.
While the right balance is crucial, any NRL player will tell you that preparation is just as important.
“If you look at last week Jarrod Mullen pulled out late and Dane Gagai was cleared late in the week,” Hagan observes.
“With Kurt Gidley moving away from fullback and the Mata’utias coming in late, I don’t think we gave our team the best chance to prepare well.
“At least this week if everyone’s fit and healthy, then they have a chance to prepare properly, which is such an important part of playing NRL.”
Where it will be won:
In the mind.
The Knights need to put the week of upheaval behind them and focus solely on the game.
“It will definitely come down to the commitment to work hard in defence,” Hagan says.
“No question both teams will be working really hard on that and in the end it may come down to the creativity of the halves.”
The Final Word:
“There have been a lot of disappointing performances all around this year so far and I’m sure in the next six weeks we can turn things into positives for everyone involved and we’ll look forward to next year,” Buderus said at a press conference on Tuesday morning.