NRL match preview: Round 4

After a perfect start to the new season with two wins from two games, the nib Newcastle Knights were brought back down to earth in Round 3.

Now they have to dust themselves off with a daunting trip down to Wollongong, where they will play a St George Illawarra Dragons side that has been unbeatable so far in 2018.

ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA DRAGONS v NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS

 
Date: Sunday April 1
Gates: 1.30pm
Kick-off: 4.10pm
Venue: WIN Stadium
Referee: Grant Atkins
 
HEAD-TO-HEAD
 
Played: 35
Knights: 11
Dragons: 24

TEAMS
 
Newcastle
1. Kalyn Ponga, 2. Shaun Kenny-Dowall, 3. Sione Mata’utia, 4. Tautau Moga, 5. Nathan Ross, 6. Brock Lamb, 7. Mitchell Pearce, 8. Herman Ese’ese, 9. Slade Griffin, 10. Jacob Lillyman, 11. Lachlan Fitzgibbon, 12. Aidan Guerra, 13. Mitch Barnett. Interchange: 14. Jamie Buhrer, 15. Chris Heighington, 16. Daniel Saifiti, 17. Daniel Saifiti, 18. Ken Sio, 19. Jacob Saifiti, 20. Danny Levi, 21. Luke Yates.
 
St George
1. Matthew Dufty, 2. Nene Macdonald, 3. Euan Aitken, 4. Timoteo Lafai, 5. Jason Nighingale, 6. Gareth Widdop, 7. Ben Hunt, 8. James Graham, 9. Cameron McInnes, 10. Paul Vaughan, 11. Tyson Frizell, 12. Tariq Sims, 13. Jack de Belin. Interchange: 14. Luciano Leilua, 15. Kurt Mann, 16. Leeson Ah Mau, 17. Hame Sele, 18. Jeremy Latimore, 19. Zac Lomax, 20. Jacob Host, 21. Blake Lawrie.

THE HALVES


The Saints’ halves pairing has been in scintillating form so far this season, with Gareth Widdop leading the competition in points, try assists, linebreak assists and goals.

New recruit Ben Hunt has excelled in other areas, averaging 55 run metres per game and isn’t far behind Widdop with four try assists.

Meanwhile, the Knights will be looking to Mitchell Pearce and Brock Lamb, hoping that the duo can click immediately in a starting capacity.

Pearce leads the competition in kicks and kick metres so far in 2018, and the star halfback will need to be at his best in that regard again this Sunday.

Brock Lamb is always capable of breaking a game open with his dynamic attacking game, but will need his forwards to match a massive Red V pack.

THE BENCHES


While the Dragons have a big pack, the Knights have the size advantage on the bench with the Saifiti twins and Chris Heighington able to provide impact after the 20-minute mark.

And although Jamie Buhrer isn’t the biggest body on the bench by any stretch of the imagination, he can play just about anywhere on the field in a pinch if injuries strike like they did last week against the Roosters.

So while the Dragons will undoubtedly come out of the blocks hard, Nathan Brown will be hoping that his bench can come on and make a telling impact in the contest.

CONTRASTING STYLES OF PLAY


While the red and blues have sought to hold onto the ball as much as possible in their quest to grind out wins so far this season, the Dragons have gone for a different style of play.

They complete their sets at a 5 per cent lower rate than the Knights in a more high risk style of play, but have scored the most points in the competition with 108.

Half of those came against an out of sorts Gold Coast Titans side last weekend, but they have undoubtedly shown that they are one of the most dangerous attacking sides in the competition.

On the other side of the coin, the Knights spent a lot of time working on defensive improvement in the pre-season, and to an extent it has paid off.

The red and blues still conceded far more points than they would have liked against the Roosters in Round 3, and will need a big improvement in that department against the in-form Dragons.