St George Illawarra Dragons head west to Mudgee for clash with Canberra Raiders

Right at home: Dragons players Jason Nightingale, Kurt Mann, Reece Robson and Blake Lawrie meet Mudgee Public School students during a community visit in February.
Right at home: Dragons players Jason Nightingale, Kurt Mann, Reece Robson and Blake Lawrie meet Mudgee Public School students during a community visit in February.

St George Illawarra coach Paul McGregor says he welcomes the challenge of teams lifting their game to face his high-flying Dragons.

The Dragons will take the first of two NRL regular season matches to Mudgee on Sunday when they host Canberra at the Glenn Willow Stadium.

St George Illawarra signed an agreement with the regional NSW town late last year to take one home competition match as well as the annual Charity Shield clash with South Sydney to Mudgee for two years.

Souths edged the Dragons 22-18 in the Charity Shield in February and made up for their loss to St George Illawarra at Kogarah in round five with a 24-10 victory at ANZ Stadium on Sunday.

A week after being labelled the benchmark team of the competition by Melbourne coach Craig Bellamy, McGregor said he was aware teams would be more motivated to face his side.

The Raiders will have even more motivation against the Dragons in Mudgee having blown a lead to go down to Cronulla on Sunday.

“I hope so. I don’t mind that. You’ve got play good week to week to play finals footy and then you’re ready. So if teams think we are the benchmark we’ve just got to make sure we go out and don’t disappoint,” McGregor said.

“We’ll definitely have a real good look at [the loss to Souths]. You’ve certainly got to learn from losing and winning. This is one of the times the pictures won’t look as good.

“But certainly we’ll review the game strongly. We’ve been winning games through forcing errors on the opposition and [Souths] turned that around on us.”

McGregor indicated halfback Ben Hunt should be right to play the Raiders despite suffering a badly corked leg, while Jack de Belin is in doubt with a mystery sternum injury having failed to train last week and only managing 30 minutes against Souths.

Dragons’ chairman Brian Johnston said the Dragons’ partnership with Mudgee would be important to the long-term prosperity of country rugby league.

“The Dragons have a large and avid supporter base across all regional markets, in particular the Central West region of NSW,” he said.

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