Round 5: Dragons v Bulldogs preview
Dragons eye payback against traditional rivals
The last time St George Illawarra faced Canterbury-Bankstown at Kogarah will live on in Dragons' history for all the wrong reasons.
Conceding 38 unanswered points on the afternoon of August 26, 2018, the loss condemned the joint venture to their worst ever defeat at the esteemed venue, while also bringing a premature end to the career of club icon Jason Nightingale due to an elbow injury.
Eight months on, the Dragons will be desperate to make amends as they look to overcome a woeful record that has seen the Bulldogs win 12 of 14 clashes since 2012.
Outlasting Newcastle 13-12 in golden point last Sunday courtesy of Corey Norman's second field goal in as many weeks, the Dragons will need to reverse recent history having won just over 30 per cent of regular season matches the week after playing extra time, while also overcoming a rare run of losses in their past three appearances at Kogarah.
Having only just returned from suspension, new signing Korbin Sims will be sidelined for the next two months with a broken arm, forcing coach Paul McGregor into a minor reshuffle of his squad. Making an early recovery from injury last week, co-captain Tyson Frizell will start ahead of Jacob Host on the right edge, allowing Luciano Leilua to fill the vacant position on the bench.
Giving the competition leaders a mighty fright last Sunday before going down 18-16 in Melbourne, the Bulldogs will be looking to demonstrate improvement following a loss by four points or less, having won six of 13 fixtures since 2014.
Winning four of five matches at Kogarah since the Dragons merged with the Steelers prior to the new millennium, coach Dean Pay will have confidence in his side's ability to get the job done on Sunday afternoon, while being wary that only three Canterbury sides have qualified for the finals after starting a season with one win from their opening five matches (1960, 1998, 2013).
Making one change brought about due to an ankle injury set to sideline Dylan Napa for the next six weeks, former Tigers prop Sauaso Sue has been granted a reprieve from Canterbury Cup on the bench, while Ofahiki Ogden will start in the front row for the first time in his career on Sunday afternoon.
Who to watch: Making his thoughts known off the field and backing it up with his performances on it, Dragons prop James Graham will relish the opportunity to face off against his former club on Sunday afternoon. Forced out of Belmore due to salary cap pressures, the 33-year-old English international has been a calming influence for his teammates during a turbulent period, averaging just under 40 tackles and 100 running metres per game over the opening month of 2019. Contracted until the end of next season, look for Graham to bring his trademark physicality to the fore as the Dragons eye payback for the embarrassment of last August.
Having played just 11 matches in first grade since debuting midway through last season, Bulldogs prop Ofahiki Ogden is set to feature in the biggest game of his career as a starting player opposite one of the most formidable forward packs in the NRL. Left out of the opening fortnight of the season by Dean Pay, the 22-year-old has played less than a half of football in 2019, yet despite his limited game time the former Warriors junior has earned plenty of plaudits as a player of the future at Belmore. Scoring his first try in the top grade during the 38-0 shut-out last year, expect Ogden to try his hand at crossing for a second on Sunday.
My tip: Having gone the distance against Melbourne only to fall short with a wayward conversion attempt, the confidence gained by the Bulldogs should buoy them to record a memorable win on the road. Bulldogs by 2.