Date: Sunday 12th of March
Venue: WIN Stadium
Gates Open: 2:00pm
Kick off: 6:30pm (NYC 2:15pm, NSW Cup 4:15pm)
Head Referee: David Munro
Assistant Referee: Chris Sutton
Head to head: Dragons 14 Eels 15, Drawn 2
Head to head odds: Eels ($ 1.75), Dragons ($ 2.12)
Broadcast: Live Fox Sports: 6:00pm
Last four encounters:
- Eels 30, Dragons 18 at Pirtek Stadium (2016)
- Eels 16, Dragons 12 at Pirtek Stadium (2015)
- Eels 36, Dragons 0 at Pirtek Stadium (2014)
- Eels 26, Dragons 22 at Parramatta Stadium (2013)
Preview: This Sunday night encounter matches long time rivals the St George Illawarra Dragons and the Parramatta Eels. Both teams are coming off the back of convincing wins. The Dragons pulled off one of the upsets of the round when they defeated competition front runners the Penrith Panthers fairly convincingly. On the other side of the coin the Eels were able to defeat the Manly Warringah Sea Eagles with moderate ease at Lottoland (Brookvale) on Sunday. With both teams buoyed by those first up victories, it should be a quality encounter.
Value Bet: My value bet for this one is for Parramatta Eels centre Michael Jennings ($14) to grab the first try. Though Jennings didn’t cross the tape last game, he has proved himself a prominent try scorer in the past. Others in the market for the first try include Nene Macdonald at $11 and Jason Nightingale at $13 for the Dragons and Semi Radradra and Bevan French at $8.50 for the Eels.
Interesting fact: The Parramatta Eels have won their last four encounters with the St George Illawarra Dragons meaning the Dragons have not defeated the Eels since 2012.
It will be a big game for:
This week game shapes as a big one for Eels young hooker Kaysa Pritchard. It came as a shock to many when the young Eels rake became the front-runner for the vacant Parramatta Eels hooking role. The hooking position was one that was very heavily contested coming into the 2017 season. With Cameron King, Issac De Gois and Kaysa Pritchard all competing for the starting role, many experts concluded that Pritchard was the most likely to miss out. However, with DeGois unavailable through injury, the live wire Pritchard has got the first shot and certainly did little wrong first up. He was among the Eels most consistent performers last week, playing the full 80 minutes and topping the Eels tackle count with 35. His defence is definitely a plus for the Eels. Whilst not being the biggest player on the field, the young rake hits above his weight and leads line speed. Expect Prichard to do more of the same against the Dragons.
Last Sunday marked the first time Kaysa Pritchard took the field in an NRL game with his older brother Frank Pritchard alongside him. Though Frank only played 20 minutes it was still a proud moment for the Pritchard family.
Danger man: The week’s danger man is Dragons back rower Joel Thompson. For the last couple of seasons Joel Thompson has developed into a top line back rower. Against the Panthers he was just about the best player on the park and was instrumental in the Dragons win. Thompson started his NRL career in the centres at the Raiders and like others in the modern day game was talented enough to make a successful transition to the back row.
The move to the Dragons has proven to be a great success. Thompson possesses great speed for a forward and only needs half a gap to create a try scoring opportunity. He’s certain to feature on the Eels tip sheets this Sunday.
St George Illawarra Dragons (1st coming into the round)
- Josh Dugan
- Nene Macdonald
- Euan Aitken
- Tim Lafai
- Jason Nightingale
- Gareth Widdop (C)
- Josh McCrone
- Russell Packer
- Cameron McInnes
- Paul Vaughn
- Tyson Frizell
- Joel Thompson
- Jack De Belin
- Tariq Sims
- Lesson Ah Mau
- Jacob Host
- Kurt Mann
- Jai Field
- Taane Milne
- Luciano Leilua
- Hame Sele
Coach: Paul McGregor
Late mail: The late changes expected for the Dragons expect them to remain 1 to 17.
Parramatta Eels (4th place coming into the round)
- Bevan French
- Semi Radradra
- Michael Jennings
- Brad Takairangi
- Josh Hoffman
- Clint Gutherson
- Corey Norman
- Suaia Matagi
- Kaysa Pritchard
- Tim Mannah (C)
- Manu Ma’u
- Tepai Moeroa
- Beau Scott (C)
- Nathan Brown
- Daniel Alvaro
- Rory O’ Brien
- Frank Pritchard
- David Gower
- Cameron King
- George Jennings
- Marata Nuikore
Coach: Brad Arthur
Late mail: There is some speculation that David Gower may come into the Eels final 17 at the expense of either Rory O’Brien or Daniel Alvaro.
Two key match ups:
Gareth Widdop vs Clint Gutherson:
This week Dragons captain Gareth Widdop does battle with Parramatta Eels unorthodox five-eight Clint Gutherson. In round one both played pivotal roles in ensuring their respective teams claimed the two competition points.
Widdop was amongst the best on the field against the Panthers, scoring two tries and racking up 22 of the 42 points – even outscoring the Panthers on his own. The Englishman had a significant role in almost all the Dragons tries.
Widdop entered the 2017 NRL season under extreme pressure, with many experts pencilling him down as one the first heads to roll at the Dragons in what was expected to be a fairly disappointing season. Though it’s still early days, Widdop has been able to silence the critics with an outstanding performance in round one. Without doubt, the Dragons pivot will want to follow up his outstanding round one performance with another great performance against the Eels, a team they haven’t beaten since 2013. However this encounter marks their first clash at WIN Stadium since then, in a match where they walked away as convincing 32 points to 12 winners.
If the Dragons are to break their recent hoodoo against the Eels Widdop would play a crucial role. He is the Dragons primary playmaker and carries the responsibility for much of their attacking creative play. He’d be on the Eels’ shortlist of players to shutdown.
Eels five eighth Clint Gutherson proved many doubters wrong last Sunday against the Sea Eagles, as he continued to successfully fill the boots of Kieran Foran who departed the Eels midway through last season.
Whilst playing a supporting role to Eels halfback Corey Norman, Gutherson was instrumental in the Eels victory. Having started his NRL career as a player who could play both fullback, wing and centre, it was evident Gutherson possessed more playmaking ability than average three quarter. However, has seen the recruit from Manly given his opportunity in the halves. Time will tell whether or not he can be a successful long term halves option for the Eels, but we can be certain he will be given every opportunity to succeed in the Eels six jumper over the course of the 2017 NRL season.
Josh Dugan vs Bevan French:
The second key match up is a battle of the fullbacks as Dragons superstar Josh Dugan comes up against Eels young gun Bevan French.
In last weekend’s victory, Dugan made 21 runs for 190 metres. The Origin star has always been classified as a running fullback but has recently found himself alternating between centre and fullback. Many experts are split down the middle to classify just where Dugan’s best position is. I personally believe Dugan is a fullback and at the Dragons he needs to play that position.
Dugan is the Dragons greatest attacking weapon and their primary marquee player. He needs to receive the ball as much as possible and the best position to do that is fullback. The modern fullback is almost a third playmaker, a player that can run the ball but also take on a play making role. Darius Boyd is the current template for this. However, Dugan is a ball runner, a player that can cut teams to pieces with ball in hand from just about anywhere on the park. Whilst the Dragons may ideally want a playmaking fullback, they need to come to the realisation they have one of the best ball running fullbacks in the game.
Will Dugan part ways with the Dragons at the end of this season? Time will tell, but for the joint venture team, it would be a huge mistake.
Eels young gun Bevan French can also be classified as a ball running fullback. He was very dangerous in his first appearance for the Eels in 2017 and was even classified by Dally M medal judge Mark Gasnier as the best of the park. Apart from Corey Norman, French is the Eels greatest attacking weapon. The young Dynamo has the ability to score a try from just about anywhere on the park. The scary thing is French is still young and there is plenty of room for improvement. That path continues this Sunday against the Dragons.
My tip: I’ll keep my tip for this one short and sweet. I see the Eels being a very hard to beat. They are a team with the ability to score plenty of points and the Dragon, whilst scoring plenty of points last weekend, have had difficulty doing this in the past. I believe the Eels will go 2 from 2 this season and claim the victory against the Dragons.
End score Eels 32, Dragons 14.
Man of the match: Corey Norman
Enjoy the game, GO THE EELS!!!