St George Illawarra skipper Ben Creagh insists his unfancied side aren’t about to waste their first NRL finals opportunity in four years, despite conceding opponents Canterbury have a big experience edge in knockout games.
The Dragons will make their first finals appearance since 2011 when they play the Bulldogs in an elimination final at Sydney’s ANZ Stadium on Saturday.
Conversely, the Bulldogs have made the finals in each of the last four years and were beaten grand finalists in 2012 and 2014.
“It definitely gives the Bulldogs an advantage,” said forward Creagh, one of only five current Dragons who played in the 2011 finals team.
“But in saying that we’ve got some young guys getting their first taste of finals footy and I remember what that was like, that’s exciting.
“They did a lot of hard work up until now and our team is not going to waste our opportunity.”
Although the Bulldogs are September specialists Graham wasn’t convinced that would give them the advantage over the Dragons.
“I don’t think so. It doesn’t really matter to us,” prop Graham said.
“The Dragons are a quality team, they deserve to be there in the eight and I don’t think they will be fussed about the past few years.”
He brushed aside the suggestion that the eighth-placed Dragons were a very beatable side that many pundits seem to believe are just making up the finals numbers.
“I’m prepared – and we’re going to be prepared – for a better St George team than what you’ve seen throughout the year,” Graham said.
“We know how highly motivated they are going to be, so there’s no easy (finals) games.”
The Bulldogs have won five straight games but Graham felt form was irrelevant, describing the finals as “a new competition.
Creagh said the Dragons’ English five-eighth and leading try/ pointscorer Gareth Widdop was a 50-50 chance of recovering in time from a thigh injury which sidelined him for the final round.
“We’ll have to see how he progresses during the week,” Creagh said.
“Fingers crossed he’ll be fit, but if not Drew Hutchinson played a really good game last week against the Tigers and he’ll do a fine job there if he has to fill in.”
The Dragons are set to welcome back Joel Thompson from a leg injury and Dylan Farrell from a back complaint.
Bulldogs pivot Josh Reynolds returned from a knee injury last weekend after missing five matches and Graham was happy with the way the five-eighth applied himself.
“I’ve got no reason why he’s (not) going to kick on and play even better on Saturday,” Graham said.
Canterbury fullback Brett Morris missed the unimpressive final round win over the Warriors with a leg injury, but coach Des Hasler said the move was precautionary and he would be right for this weekend.