By STEVE SPINKS
WHAT do the St George Illawarra Dragons and Marist Brothers Rams have in common, besides both being rugby league teams and both playing finals this weekend?
Neither have lost since July.
To be more precise, it was the weekend Marist Brothers coach Craig Hodges joined one of his best mates, Dragons mentor Nathan Brown, for a week in Sydney.
It's a funny coincidence both coaches have been joking about as the Brethren prepare for their clash with Murwillumbah in the BCU Northern Rivers Regional Rugby League preliminary final tomorrow at Murwillumbah and the Dragons ready themselves for a showdown with Cronulla tonight.
Hodges was a special guest of Brown and the St George Illawarra club.
He watched the Dragons defeat Manly on July 17 and was with the team as they prepared for their next game against Cronulla.
"It was an awesome experience," Hodges said.
"We had the bye, so I went down to Sydney. Brownie and I grew up together in Maclean, so we played a lot of footy together.
"They (the Dragons) have a very professional set-up down there; I wouldn't mind some of the equipment they have."
The fact that both teams have remained undefeated since Hodges' visit has been a running joke between Brown and Hodges ever since.
"The Dragons have been pretty much on fire so I'm happy to take the credit for it," Hodges chuckled.
"The weekend I came back we beat Grafton Ghosts by 50-odd points and all the coaches from the Dragons checked the scores in Rugby League Week to see how we went.
"Apparently they were all laughing and cheering and saying what a great effect they'd had on Brothers.
"So they're taking the credit for Brothers and I'm taking the credit for the Dragons."
Not a bad swap.
To be fair to both coaches, their undefeated run extends to before Hodges' visit.
The Brethren were last defeated by Cudgen back in May, while the Dragons' most recent loss was to the Wests Tigers in June.
Besides both teams winning, Hodges admits there aren't many similarities between the two sides.
The two sides that do bear striking similarities are Brothers and Murwillumbah.
They both have big, strong, rolling forward packs and smart backs.
Marist Brothers' use of Tim Tredigo and Shaun Coe off the bench in support of the two starting front-rowers Simon Andrews and Chris Farrell has prompted Mustangs coach Con Theodossiou to promote two extra forwards to his bench.
The move sets up a big clash between the packs.
But much of the Brethren's best work from the bench comes from back-rower Luke Campbell and hooker Harry Witt, who can also play as a running forward.
"It's an enormous luxury to have the bench we have," Hodges said.
"Luke is suited to short, sharp stints off the bench and we're pretty much resigned to losing Harry to the NRL."
Hodges is hoping the Dragons and Brothers' winning form carries over this weekend.
He'll be cheering for St George Illawarra and Brown will be cheering for Brothers.
But Hodges admits that Brown finds it hard to cheer for the Brethren.
After all, Brown was a former Lower Clarence.
MURWILLUMBAH: Fullback, Shannon Murphy; wingers, Ricky Lang, Ryan Murphy; centres, Jason Willis, Brad Wann; five-eighth, Matt Harley; halfback, Sam Panting; props, Lyndon Murphy, Steve Kirkham; hooker, Jarrod Brown; second-rowers, Jarrod Reid, Andrew Pollard, Clint O'Keefe, Dougall Harvison. Coach: Con Theodossiou.Flick, Glenn Weaver; lock, Lionel Foster. Bench: Robert
MARIST BROTHERS: Fullback, Nathan Tolley; wingers, Adrian Gooley, Rod McFarlane; centres, Niko Vakararawa, Graham Smallwood; five-eighth, Jake Campbell; halfback, Brent Peterson; props, Simon Andrews, Chris Farrell; hooker, Scott Gibson; second-rowers, Luke Scott (c), Kevin Walker; lock, Alan Campbell. Bench: Luke Campbell, Tim Tredigo, Shaun Coe, Harry Witt, Jason King. Coach:Craig Hodges.
n In reserve grade, Tweed Seagulls will look to return to the winners' list after their first loss of the season to Ballina in the major semi-final last week. Seagulls will meet Murwillumbah, which knocked out Mullumbimby last Saturday.
In Under-18s, Kyogle will also lock horns with Murwillumbah.