Origin a test for Dragons in NRL: Bellamy

Steve Zemek
St George Illawarra coach Paul McGregor will be down on personnel when the Dragons play Melbourne

Craig Bellamy has laid down the challenge to St George Illawarra, predicting they're set to pay a heavy toll for their State of Origin representation.

While the Dragons are riding high at the top of the NRL ladder ahead of Thursday's clash with the third-placed Melbourne, they are facing an Origin drain the likes of which they haven't felt in seven years.

Paul McGregor will be missing Ben Hunt, Paul Vaughan, Tyson Frizell, Jack de Belin and Tariq Sims when the two sides clash at AAMI Park.

Not since 2011, when they had eight Origin players in their ranks, have the Dragons had so many players absent due to Queensland and NSW duties.

As well, Gareth Widdop, James Graham and Leeon Ah Mau were involved in the mid-season Denver Test.

While Bellamy has not wavered from his belief that the Dragons are the competition benchmark, he argued that it all took an emotional and physical toll.

"I don't think they've had a big representation in Origin in the past few years," Bellamy said.

"This year they have. With a couple of their top players in Gareth and James Graham having to go to Denver, we know the affect that had on Nelson (Asofa-Solomona). It's a new experience for them this year, having so many guys in rep footy.

"If you've got a lot of players playing Origin, that really affects you. I think they'll find it'll probably affect them after Origin too. Sometimes if you're playing your first Origin series, it takes a lot out of you physically and mentally.

"I'm sure they'll be there when the whips are cracking at the end because they played well at the start of the season and they know what works for them."

The Dragons did show signs of rust in their thrilling 20-18 win over last-placed Parramatta last week, with McGregor later conceding they were "out-enthused".

The Storm will have six players on Origin duty in Billy Slater, Will Chambers, Cameron Munster, Felise Kaufusi, Tim Glasby and Josh Addo-Carr.

After watching his side get convincingly beaten 34-14 by the Dragons in round nine, Bellamy declared the Dragons the competition "benchmark" - a claim treated with bemusement by McGregor.

Bellamy described it as a turning point in their season and said they were a better team than three months ago.

"We got a bit of a touch up - that's what I took away from that," Bellamy said.

"We were really disappointed in our performance that day and they were very, very good.

"We learned a little bit about ourselves that game and what we need to do if we're going to go deep into the season. We've really worked on a few of those things but it's a different game tomorrow night."