Drew Hutchison’s chance to claim a St George Illawarra playmaking spot next season won’t hinge solely on his performance against Parramatta.
Hutchison has been called up by coach Paul McGregor to partner Gareth Widdop in the Dragons’ halves at the expense of Benji Marshall.
In what will be the NRL’s last-ever Monday night fixture, Hutchison can position himself to succeed Marshall by playing a big game.
The Pirtek Stadium clash is the only one Hutchison will have alongside Widdop this year, with Marshall set to return for the Dragons’ final game of 2016 against Newcastle.
McGregor said it wasn’t do-or-die for Hutchison against the Eels.
“Obviously we wanted to have a look at Drew, but by no means will it be his only chance if he is to play halfback next season. He will have all the pre-season,” McGregor said.
The 21-year-old played three NRL games for the Dragons in 2015 but is yet to feature this season.
“Drew has been working really hard to get this opportunity,” McGregor said.
“He has been training very hard and playing very well in NSW Cup.
“This is a chance for him to step up and take ownership of that (playmaking) role.”
Tim Lafai returns for suspended centre Taane Milne for the Dragons.
Prop Russell Packer is out with shoulder and hip injuries, and will be replaced by Jacob Host.
Brad Takairangi returns from a hamstring injury at centre for Vai Toutai for the Eels.
Danny Wicks starts at prop for the suspended Rory O’Brien, and Tepai Moeroa and Beau Scott return to the home side’s back row.
Peni Terepo and Kenny Edwards drop back to an extended bench.
The game is the final fixture at Pirtek before it undergoes redevelopment, and coach Brad Arthur is keen for the Eels to finish their troubled year strongly there.
“It is the last game at Pirtek Stadium. We move to ANZ Stadium next year so it is really important that we put on a good spectacle for the fans,” he said.
* The Eels demolished the Dragons 36-6 in the first-ever match at the reconfigured Parramatta Stadium – now called Pirtek – in 1986, with former club head Steve Sharp scoring the first try.
* The Eels have won 189 of 343 matches at the stadium in its present configuration. Their biggest win was a 74-4 demolition of the Sharks in 2003, and their worst loss was a 64-12 hammering by Manly in 1988.
* The Dragons have the worst Monday night game record since its reintroduction in 2007, winning just nine of 31 appearances.
* Both teams have had a hard time scoring points this season. Parramatta have struggled with their attack, scoring just three tries a game in 2016, which is more than only the Dragons and Knights.
* Source: Fox Sports Stats