ISP PREVIEW | Dragons v Jets
Their 2018 head-to-head record reads one win apiece, and recent form suggests there will be little to split the St George-Illawarra Dragons and the Newtown Jets when the sides meet in the second Intrust Super Premiership Qualifying Final at Panthers Stadium on Sunday.
Match: Dragons v Jets
Finals Week 1 -
Venue: Panthers Stadium
FOX League delayed telecast, 9.30pm.
The Dragons – who are set to line-up without a host of ISP-regulars who have this week been selected in the NRL squad, face a tough task in the high-flying Jets – who themselves are set to welcome back regular No.7 Kyle Flanagan following the 19-year-old making his first-grade debut last weekend.
But with three-consecutive wins to their credit, St George-Illawarra Dragons coach Mat Head remains confident his new-look team can win secure a Preliminary Final berth at the weekend.
"We've been with players in-and-out throughout the season... Obviously the NRL [team] is in a bit of a situation one week away from their finals where they're trying to hit some form," Head tells NSWRL.com.au.
"We've trained hard for this since November , and we've put ourselves in a position where we can get two bites at the cherry.
LAST TIME THEY MET | ROUND 5, 2018: Dragons 18 def. Jets 10
"Last year I might have struggled with [lack of squad depth] a bit... The [NRL Dragons staff] have been very supportive in my role... They've given me players in other weeks where they probably didn't need to.
"It's a two-way street, now I better understand my role at the club as the 'transition' coach... it's all about our NRL team. I understand that, I believe in that."
Injuries to Dragons' NRL duo Jason Nightingale (elbow) and Euan Aitken's (hamstring) means ISP-regular Zac Lomax starts at centre in the NRL squad, with Jai Field named on the first-grade bench.
In a positive for the club, Cameron McInnes has passed all Head Injury Assessments, with Reece Robson to take to the field against the Jets in the ISP on Sunday.
"He (McInnes) passed all the tests he had to [Wednesday] night," Head says.
"Cam's all sweet to play [NRL], 'Robbo' (Reece Robson) will play with us."
Robson's pending inclusion in the ISP squad will bolster the Dragons' chances of winning through to a Grand Final qualifier in a fortnight's time.
Head – deep into his second year at the Dragons' Intrust Super Premiership helm – rapped the 20-year-old hooker's attitude since returning to the second-tier team, after making his NRL debut in Round 9.
"It's pleasing to see some of the guys that have played in my (Intrust Super Premiership) team getting their (first-grade) shot now... of course that's the bigger goal for the club," Head says.
"Hopefully those guys can perform for the NRL squad and get us deep into the finals in that competition... I know we're minus three players this week it could be more in future weeks.
"The players that I've picked in my team this week, I'm confident they can get the job done. I've got the belief in them, and so do the rest of the players. "
Head's confidence is justified.
Despite a sluggish start to the season, the Dragons have won four of their past five matches – including victories against fellow top eight teams Mounties, Bulldogs and Wyong Roos.
Between those clashes, Byes in rounds 19 and 22 rocketed the Red V further up the ISP ladder to finish in second.
"When we had a look at the season and we saw that we had two Byes late, there was a bit of a plan there that if we could string some wins together around those [Byes] that it would put us in a good position," Head says.
"This weekend, it's a bit of a strange one. We played them (Newtown) twice in the first five rounds and we haven't seen them since.
"We're two similar teams – young spines, both teams like to throw the footy around.
"But like any big game, it'll be won through the forward pack and defence. If we can get that in order then that lets our outside backs – who are young and exciting – to do their thing."