Fiery Anzac Day clash ahead for St George Illawarra Dragons and Sydney Roosters

Calm before the storm: (From left) Dragons coach Paul McGregor with winger Jason Nightgale. Roosters co-captain Jake Friend with coach Trent Robinson. Picture: John Veage

Calm before the storm: (From left) Dragons coach Paul McGregor with winger Jason Nightgale. Roosters co-captain Jake Friend with coach Trent Robinson. Picture: John Veage

The last two Anzac Day matches between St George Illawarra and the Sydney Roosters have ended with the Roosters questioning the integrity of the Dragons.

They’ve claimed that Dragons players take dives.

It is a stinging barb that St George Illawarra players spoke about before the teams met for a second time last season. Dragons forward Joel Thompson even said last season “there is a little bit of hate there”.

Coaches Trent Robinson and Paul McGregor clashed in the dressing rooms after McGregor took exception to Robinson’s claims the Dragons had feigned injury to milk penalties in the Anzac Day clash last season, which followed similar taunts from Robinson the year before.

Veteran Dragons winger Jason Nightingale denied there was bad blood between the sides, saying it was all part of the emotional Anzac Day clash.

“There’s no bad blood. Things happen in rugby league and the old cliche goes what happens on the field stays on the field. We believe in that. We think both teams should always buy into that,” he said.

“Anzac Day is a day that brings out emotion in everyone, good and bad. It’s a sombre day but also a celebration. I think that’s what great about this clash, it does bring out those sort of emotions in people and a lot of energy. And usually high quality rugby league. It’s great for the fans and great for the players to be a part of.”

But Roosters co-captain Jake Friend refused to back down when he spoke to Fairfax Media ahead of Tuesday’s game at Allianz Stadium. 

"I'm not going to dwell on it now and go back into it but I'm sure they'll be talking about it in their sheds," he said. 

"We said what we did last year and we're not taking that back. It's been said. I've put it out there so it's up to them whether they do or don't [use it as motivation] ... I'm sure it's been touched on."

"I didn't know there was hate. We always seem to play big games against each other and I guess that comes with the Anzac Day game and the atmosphere around it.

"Obviously a few years in a row words have been said by both teams. That's footy and you have your rivalries and you enjoy those games. It motivates you because you know other teams are over there hating you and possibly slagging you.

"I'm not going to say we hate them, but we enjoy playing them and it's going to be tough and we know they're going to be coming after us."

Roosters coach Trent Robinson was also fined $40,000 for a post-match tirade against referee Ben Cummins and the video referee bunker after the Anzac Day clash last year.

"That's been in the past. It's definitely been there. We've talked about it, we've dealt with it. Some things got changed out of that,” Robinson said.

"There has been some feeling. I don't think that will be any different.

"But it's a new year. Players have changed. We have to make sure we attack this game as a new game. If we carry too much of the weight from the years gone past you won't be fresh enough to win a game."

For Nightingale, it is a game that he loves. The club game that he notes down on the calendar and gets excited for.

“I think that’s one of the reasons why it is such an exciting time because we are there commemorating the sacrifices the people made before us,” he said. 

“To be able to get out there in front of all the fans and turn up and to see how passionate they are. And obviously the emotional Last Post is something that we’re privileged to be part of. You never want to take that for granted. Coming to the end of my career I think these occasions, not that I ever have taken anyone before that for granted, but I look forward to them even more.”

The 30-year-old will shift back to the wing this week after doing an outstanding job at fullback, filling in for the injured Josh Dugan.

McGregor confirmed Dugan would return from a hamstring injury and paid tribute to the Anzac Day tradition.

“Obviously the timing of it, because of the special occasion, it’s a good weekend for the game to pay tribute to the servicewomen and men who’ve safeguarded our country and New Zealand,” McGregor said.

"He trained well last week. It was a grade-two [hamstring injury].

"He needed that extra time. With the nine-day turnaround it wasn't worth pushing him out in front of the Cowboys when Jase [Nightingale] has done such a great job and Kurt Mann was healthy.

"He probably ran at about 90 per cent on Saturday just before the game against the Cowboys. Training today he was outstanding."

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