Dragons' Origin hopes face sternest test

Scott Bailey

St George Illawarra's State of Origin hopefuls will surely never get a better chance to prove their credentials.

Fresh off the back of a visit from Brad Fittler and his NSW coaching staff, the Dragons face the most star-studded team in the competition in Melbourne.

They come into the match in good form, comfortably disposing of the Sydney Roosters 24-8 just a week-and-a-half ago.

"The boys know they have put themselves in the next position to play representative footy, but they know the next month will shape that as well," Dragons coach Paul McGregor said.

Dragons players, including Euan Aitken, Cameron McInnes, Paul Vaughan, Tariq Sims and Jack de Belin, received the best indication yet on Thursday they are closer than ever to possible Blues debuts alongside incumbent Tyson Frizell.

After playing seven of their first eight games on Channel Nine and in front of Fittler in commentary, he was joined by advisors Greg Alexander and Danny Buderus to watch the Dragons train on Thursday.

"He rang me during the week and he wanted to come down at some stage to see the boys," McGregor said.

"It fitted in well because we had an 11-day turnaround. So it didn't interrupt anything.

"They just spoke to the players shortly and briefly. They came down and had a look at training and Danny did a bit with Cam."

McInnes' battle with Maroons maestro Cameron Smith on Sunday at Kogarah is easily the biggest of his career.

Locked in an apparent shootout for a Blues jersey with Souths hooker Damien Cook, a win over Smith could also be the knockout blow.

Ben Hunt will also feel the pressure of trying to outgun Cameron Munster and Smith as aims to cement his Maroons' No.7 jersey, while he and the Dragons pack must stand down the Storm's representative forwards.

Plenty are tipping this could be a preview to this year's grand final based on what the ladder-leading Dragons and fourth-placed Storm have shown so far this year.

"We've got to have an appreciation in the game we're playing in more than anything else," McGregor said.

"We know we've got to maintain those standards and improve by percentages when we're playing quality teams, and there's none better than the quality we're playing this weekend."

STATS THAT MATTER

* The Dragons have won just 26.5 per cent of matches against Melbourne - their worst record of any team.

* The Saints have won 12 of their past 14 at Kogarah.

* Melbourne winger Josh Addo-Carr has scored doubles in his last three games.

*Stats: Fox Sports Stats