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Matai to welcome back Gaz

15/08/2010 02:19:41 PM Comments (0)

Mark Gasnier's welcome back to the NRL should be complete by the end of St George Illawarra's huge clash with Manly on Monday night, when the former Test star marks old sparring partner Steve Matai.

Matai is sure to have his own aggressive approach to making Gasnier feel back at home when he seeks to shut down the Dragons' fast-improving prodigal son in the WIN Jubilee Oval match of the round.

The pair infamously came together in an Australia-New Zealand Test match in 2007, when Matai was sent off for a sickening shot on Gasnier and suspended for two games.

"It will be a good battle between those two," Gasnier's centre partner Matt Cooper said.

"They're both good players and Matai's an aggressive player and Gaz has got all the flair so it's going to be a good match-up."

Gasnier's return from rugby union has now spanned five games and he showed glimpses of his brilliant best in last week's bruising 19-12 win over the Sydney Roosters.

The ladder-leading Dragons can take another step towards wrapping up a second straight minor premiership with a win over Manly, who beat Wayne Bennett's side 24-6 in round nine but haven't won at Kogarah since 1997.

Amplifying the importance of the game, the Sea Eagles could find themselves in the top four with a win, and put some familiar end-of-season doubts into the minds of the Dragons.

St George Illawarra are close to full strength for the final weeks of the campaign, while Manly have recently lost fullback Ben Farrar (knee), prop Josh Perry (knee) and winger William Hopoate (hamstring) and forward Anthony Watmough (knee) remains in doubt.

Cooper, meanwhile, will have his own hands full marking 2010 State of Origin team-mate Jamie Lyon, who outplayed Melbourne superstar Greg Inglis in Manly's 26-6 win last week.

But the 31-year-old Dragons veteran said he still relished the one-on-one battles.

"I've sort of been doing that for my whole career, I love the challenge," he said.

"He's been playing really good football so it's going to give me a bit more of a boost to try and have a good game.

"They're a great attacking side, especially down their right side with Lyon and Stewart and the big fella (Tony Williams) on the wing.

"A couple of times on our left side the last couple of weeks we let some easy tries in so we want to fix that."

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