Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks vs St George Illawarra Dragons: Five things we learned

The second round of the new season has begun, courtesy of the Southern Sydney Derby between the Sharks and the Dragons at Cronulla’s Southern Cross Group Stadium, in which the Dragons came from behind to stun their bitter rivals, 20-16, in what was a wind affected Thursday evening match. Here, we delve deeper into the five key points to emerge from the ultimate grudge match between the two old foes. 

1. A derby match of two halves

The Sharks were absolutely dominant in the first half, having the lion’s share of possession, and completing 20 of 21 sets. However, for all their dominance in the first stanza, and with the wind at their backs, the Shire boys would find themselves leading only 14-4 at the interval. Conversely, the Dragons found themselves under a sky blue and white siege for the duration of the first half, yet only found themselves 10 points down at the break. This was due to being able to repel several waves of Sharks attacks through last-ditch defence and a spectacular try against the run of play just before the break. 

The second half saw the Sharks demonstrate their weakness of last week and 2017, committing 11 errors to finish with 12 for the match. Moreover, these errors would invite the Dragons into their territory and the Sharks were unable to hold out their opponents close to their line, missing a total of 40 points for the match. Conversely, the Saints would score 16 second-half points and miss only 13 tackles, en route to their memorable 20-16 victory.

2. MacDonald’s try got the Red-V going

Dragons winger Nene MacDonald was the player who scored the spectacular try against the run of play in the first half, which undoubtedly gave the Saints some much-needed momentum heading into the interval. What transpired was nothing short of sensational, as there was a very minimal margin for error. 

Close to the Eastern touchline of Southern Cross Group Stadium, Dragons five-eighth Gareth Widdop put up a kick, which MacDonald would catch on the full and, with minimal space to work with, planted the ball in the in-goal area just inside the touchline to score an amazing try. As stated earlier, it was completely against the run of play, and the Saints would score 16 of the next 18 points in the second half.

3. Holmes with another forgettable match 

Valentine Holmes started last week’s match in his preferred position of fullback and turned in a performance well below his standard, making numerous error in a very forgettable performance. Subsequently, Sharks coach Shane Flanagan opted to switch Holmes out on the wing, playing former Dragon Josh Dugan in the custodian role. 

Most will say that Holmes’ best performances have come when he has been playing on the wing, and given what he produced at club, state, and international level, it’s difficult to disagree. Thus, Flanno felt the need to make the aforementioned positional switch. Yet despite this tactical switch, Holmes produced yet another error-riddled display, which included making his team’s sole error in a near-perfect first half, courtesy of an intercept-pass. 

Holmes may prefer to play in the fullback position, but with his performances in his last two matches, including this match, he’s doing little to justify his claim.

4. Sin-binning effect was negligible  

The sin-binning of veteran Dragons winger Jason Nightingale came about after he committed a professional on Sharks winger Sosaia Feki, who intercepted a pass from Saints fullback Matt Dufty. Prior to that, the Sharks appeared devoid of momentum and ideas, having squandered a 14-0 lead, to find themselves trailing 16-14. 

After Nightingale was given his marching orders, the Sharks interestingly opted to use up 2 of those 10 minutes of having a one-man advantage to kick a penalty goal. Most would believe the logical course of action would have been to have opted to go for the try, especially considering they could have wrestled the momentum back their way. This decision to take the penalty goal instead would prove crucial, as the Shire boys failed to complete their sets and conceded needless penalties during this period, to let their opponents off the hook.

5. The Bermuda Triangle

Southern Cross Group Stadium has been touted by some as the “Bermuda Triangle”, due to it’s unwanted effect on opposition teams, who would arrive there full of momentum, and leave with their tails between their legs. Moreover, the breeze which regularly sweeps across the ground proves incredibly difficult for opposition players to handle. The breeze can be attributed to the location of Woolooware Bay, which is adjacent to the northern end of the ground. 

Although the Dragons would escape the venue with the competition points, the Bermuda Triangle argument certainly had some merit, given all the points scored in the match were scored by the team running with the breeze.

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