Dragons depth tested against full strength Eels

STEPPING UP: Paul McGregor expects Tariq Sims to lift this week. Picture: Adam McLean

STEPPING UP: Paul McGregor expects Tariq Sims to lift this week. Picture: Adam McLean

DRAGONS coach Paul McGregor has backed the NRL’s decision to make game two of next year’s State of Origin series a standalone fixture as he prepares to take on Parramatta without two of his stars on Sunday.

The Eels are unaffected by Origin but the Dragons will be without Josh Dugan and Tyson Frizell, who are one NSW duty, while Blues 18th man Jack de Belin has taken no part in the Dragons preparations.

Elsewhere in round 15, Saturday’s Storm-Cowboys clash will be missing a combined eight star players while Sunday’s match between the Sharks and Tigers will suffer from six notable ommissions.

NRL coaches have long bemoaned the annual lull in the regular season as the club competition takes a backseat to the ever-growing Origin juggernaut. Origin II will be played as a standalone match on a Sunday next season, a move McGregor endorsed on Friday.

“It’s certainly a step in the right direction for sure,” McGregor said.

“It shows [the NRL] is doing something about it because it is a problem and I think the way they’re trying to manage it is good.

“I think the first step is to have one standalone and see how that goes and then move forward from there.

“We get affected a little bit but there’s a lot of clubs worse off than us so we all go through it.

“The clubs that have five or six involved would really feel the effects. We’ve got three in camp with Jack de Belin as that 18th person and we feel the effects so I think the direction they’re taking it is great.”

The Dragons avoided the Origin squeeze with a bye ahead of game one, but were sluggish in their 16-12 win over Wests Tigers in round 13 and were held try-less in a 16-2 loss to the Bulldogs last week.

McGregor said it’s important his side break out of their mini-slump against the Eels on Sunday.

“Certainly we haven’t come back the same team as we were before [the bye],” McGregor said.

“I’m never comfortable around Origin time. There’s disruptions across our club and every club and we had the bye thrown in there.

“We had a good win over there against the Warriors [in round 11] and came back and gave them some time off to refresh.

“Our last two weeks haven’t been at the standard we would like and I think our team-first actions have got to be a lot stronger this week.

“It’s about working hard and embracing the grind a bit more than we have the last two weeks.”

With Dugan and Frizell missing, McGregor has the luxury of filling the void with experienced heads Jason Nightingale and Tariq Sims.

“[Dugan and Frizell] are both two important parts of our machine but we’ve had a few guys out previously so it puts us in a good position to use the depth in our squad,” McGregor said.

“We’re very comfortable with the players coming in because of the experience they do have and it’s mixed with a lot of youth as well.

“We’ve put Jase back to fullback where he’s done a great job for us this year and Tariq’s been playing solid going onto that [right] edge when he comes on the field with Friz going to the middle.

“It’s always been next man up for us this year and the guys coming in will do a really good job and they’re looking forward to that opportunity.”

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