Will the Dragons be able to overcome the loss of Gareth Widdop in this top-of-the-table clash?
The Red V’s brilliant start to the season could be derailed in the coming weeks as their captain could be missing for up to six games after being injured just before half-time in last week’s loss to the Roosters.
Stgeorge Illawarra has lost just twice in eight rounds and are currently second on the ladder but go into this having lost 13-12 in Golden Point on ANZAC Day.
Their opponents leapt them on the ladder to regain top spot after beating the Warriors just hours after that clash by a score of 20-14.
The Dragons are going to have their depth, and resolve, tested in the next six weeks.
No one expected anything from them this year but Widdop has been one of the players of the competition in 2017, helping his side to a 6-2 start which is one of their best beginnings in recent times.
Widdop is ranked third in tries and try assists which he sits fifth in the NRL for linebreaks which means that it’s going to be big boots to fill for whoever steps into the five-eighth role.
While line-ups for each side weren’t available at the time of writing, coach Paul Macgregor was quoted in the media as saying that utility Kurt Mann could fill the gap while there are others, including Josh Dugan, who may get the call up.
Either way, from what we saw in the second half against the Roosters when Widdop was missing, the Dragons looked disjointed and didn’t have any clear direction.
That is a big blow for the competition’s leading attack (203 points) as Widdop has been directly responsible for almost half of that.
CONSISTENCY WINS GAMES
The Storm made the most of their opportunities against the Warriors, however, the New Zealanders gave them a big fright and had they not been so generous in giving away penalties then it could have been a different story.
Getting 20 points or more for the fifth time this season, Melbourne’s attack still hasn’t fully clicked and to highlight that only the Roosters have scored less of the sides that are currently in the top eight.
While their attack is still getting warm, Melbourne’s defence still leads the competition (12.375ppg).
Melbourne has dominated this fixture for a long time.
They have won 23 games and lost nine but the Dragons did win their last encounter which was at this ground back in Round 15, minus their Origin stars. Stgeorge Illawarra are now chasing consecutive wins against the Storm for the first time since 1999.
Interestingly, MELBOURNE seems to struggle at WIN Stadium with three straight losses at the venue. Winning margins haven’t been spectacular in the past six matches either, with an average of nine points separating the teams since 2014.
This is going to be a gripping encounter but it’s been robbed somewhat with the withdrawal of Widdop.
That definitely gives the advantage to the Storm who we think might just have enough to get over the line, however, both teams are on the quick back-up from ANZAC Day so who recovers quicker is going to be vital.
Stgeorge Illawarra will give the Melbourne team something to think about here even though they are skinny in the halves. Their forwards have been some of the most damaging in the NRL while the team is ranked third for running metres while their conversion rate when inside an opponents 20 metre line is the best in the league.
With their attack hamstrung it will come down to their defence, which has been impressive for the most part of 2017, to try and handle Cooper Cronk, Billy Slater and Cameron Smith.
TIM LAFAI ANYTIME TRYSCORER