The second round of NRL season 2018 kicks off with the Southern Sydney Derby, as the Dragons make the short trip across the Georges River to tackle their fierce rivals and neighbours, the Sharks. Irrespective of the fact that the match will be played on a Thursday evening, the match is most certainly a mouth-watering one, and the Sharks supporters will be sure to turn up in force to give their neighbours a typically hostile welcome into the Sutherland Shire.
Despite the scoreline in their match with the Cowboys last week being rather close, the Sharks were actually quite disappointing and can consider themselves fortunate to have not had further points put on them. The men from the Shire made some rather elementary errors such as kicking the ball out on the full from the restart and letting the Cowboys’ kick-off bounce into touch. The comforting fact for the Sharks is that it is still very early in the season. They will undoubtedly be relieved to be returning home and will be fired up to get their first victory. There’s not much greater motivation than to be up against their greatest rivals and claim their first victory.
For the Dragons, it was the complete opposite. Kicking off their season at home against perennial finalists, the Broncos, many observers were intrigued as to how they would fare with new signings, James Graham and former Bronco, Ben Hunt. What transpired was nothing short of impressive, as the red-and-whites completely dominated the Broncos, with Hunt being the principal destroyer of his former team. In fact, the Saints can count themselves unfortunate not to have posted a minimum of 40 points. They will definitely be eager to consolidate on their start and compound the misery on their bitter rivals in the process.
Further adding to the rivalry is the off-season transfer of former Dragons player, Josh Dugan, to the Sharks. Having scored in his previous match, Duges will undoubtedly be eager to add to his try-scoring total, and he will have no greater motivation than this match, to score against his former club, and to remind them of the talent they are missing. Similarly, given Dugan’s transfer to the Sharks, the Dragons players will definitely be eager to rip into one of their former players, who now plies his trade for a fierce rival.
2017 - Rd 10 - Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks 18 def. St George-Illawarra Dragons 14 at WIN Jubilee Oval.
2017 - Rd 3 - St George-Illawarra Dragons 16 def. Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks 10 at Southern Cross Group Stadium.
2016 - Rd 23 - St George-Illawarra Dragons 32 def. Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks 18 at WIN Jubilee Oval.
2016 - Rd 2 - Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks 30 def. St George-Illawarra Dragons 2 at Southern Cross Group Stadium.
2015 - Rd 18- Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks 28 def. St George-Illawarra Dragons 8 at Southern Cross Group Stadium.
The overall head-to-head between the Southern Sydney neighbours reads 19 victories to the Sharks and 20 victories to the Dragons, coupled with a draw, which occurred way back in 2001. Moreover, as can be seen with the aforementioned recent meetings, the victories are fairly evenly shared between the two rivals. Moreover, of the six encounters since 2015, each team has shared three victories apiece. This means that the most recent encounters can be seen as fuel being added to a fire which has been blazing since 1999 (1967 - 1998, prior to the merger between the St George Dragons and Illawarra Steelers, when St George were a stand-alone club).
In regards to their encounters at Cronulla since 1999, there have been 19 encounters, in which the Sharks emerged triumphant on 12 occasions. However, as can be seen, although the Sharks won their most recent encounter, the victor in the most recent match between the two sides at this venue was the Dragons. The last two encounters between the sides proved crucial for the respective losers, as the Sharks’ loss at home cost them a place in the top 4 in 2017, as they would eventually be eliminated in the first round of last year’s finals. For the Dragons, their loss at home to their bitter rivals was costly for them, in that a victory would have seen them overtake the Cowboys into 8th spot and a place in the finals. Moreover, had the Dragons won that match, there’s every chance that they would have encountered their neighbours in the elimination final of last season.
|Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks||St George Illawarra Dragons|
|1||Valentine Holmes||Matthew Dufty|
|2||Sosaia Feki||Nene MacDonald|
|3||Josh Dugan||Euan Aitken|
|4||Ricky Leutele||Tim Lafai|
|5||Aaron Gray||Jason Nightingale|
|6||Matt Moylan||Gareth Widdop|
|7||Chad Townsend||Ben Hunt|
|8||Andrew Fifita||James Graham|
|9||Jayden Brailey||Cameron McInnes|
|10||Matt Prior||Paul Vaughan|
|11||Jason Bukuya||Tyson Frizell|
|12||Wade Graham||Tariq Sims|
|13||Paul Gallen||Jack de Belin|
|14||Kurt Capewell||Luciano Leilua|
|15||James Segeyaro||Kurt Mann|
|16||Ava Seumanufagai||Leeson Ah Mau|
|17||Joseph Paulo||Hame Sele|
|18||Kurt Dillon||Jeremy Latimore|
|19||Trent Hodkinson||Zachary Lomax|
|20||Jesse Ramien||Reece Robson|
|21||Jack Williams||Blake Lawrie|
The facts that matter
A damning statistic for the Sharks is their form at home last season. Of the 12 matches they had at home in 2017, they would only emerge triumphant in 5 of these encounters, winning by an average of just over 4 points. Conversely, in their 7 losses at home last season, they would lose by an average of just over 8 points. Crucially, one of these home losses was to the Dragons, as alluded to earlier.
Moreover, the Sharks were the biggest culprits in errors committed in season 2017, and they demonstrated as such in their last outing against the Cowboys, completing 62% of their sets. In addition, they missed 38 tackles, which was twice as many as their opponents. Therefore, the Sharks can consider themselves fortunate that the final scoreline from last week was as close as it was. They will want to correct the aforementioned statistics and what better way to do that than against the old enemy.
On the flip side, the Sharkies made 11 offloads, which was more than their opponents made, with 8. This means that if they maintain their propensity to offload, especially close to their opponents’ line, they can create a multitude of opportunities for themselves while causing headaches for their opponents.
St George Illawarra Dragons
For the Dragons, they were ultra-impressive against the Broncos and the statistics corroborate this. In attack, the Saints completed 71% of their sets, churning 1641 metres in the match (to the Broncos 1099) and making 5 offloads to the Broncos’ 2. This means that, with respect to their attack, they picked up where they left off from last season, as they were ranked 5th best in attack.
In defence and discipline, the Saints missed only 16 tackles last week, while making only 10 errors and conceding just 7 penalties. If the Dragons submit a performance resembling that of last week, their opponents will have a torrid time preventing any points being scored by the Saints and could be in for a very long night, despite the home advantage held by the Sharks.
Despite the fact that the Dragons won their most recent match away to the Sharks, their overall winning record in Cronulla stands at 37%. Moreover, aside from their most recent visit to the Shire, their visits in 2015 and 2016 have resulted in comprehensive defeats by the old enemy.
Undoubtedly, the Saints will want to start putting this right with a victory over their bitter rivals.
This grudge match between two old rivals sees one team returning from the sunshine state thankful for a smaller than deserved defeat, against the other team who make the short trip across the Captain Cook Bridge, fresh off a comprehensive victory. Moreover, adding spice to this already heated rivalry is that fact that former Dragon, Josh Dugan, will be up against his former employers.
The Sharks will be glad to be back in front of their supporters and will be more than eager to open their account for the season, especially against a bitter rival, thereby inflicting their opponents’ first defeat. They will be backed by their parochial supporters, who will definitely be out in force to give the Dragons a hostile welcome.
For the Dragons, they will be keen to inflict further misery on their old rivals, to ensure they remain undefeated for 2018. Being away to their neighbours gives them ample motivation to rip in to their opponents even more that they are likely to already. They too will have a large following, who will make the short trip with them across the Georges River.
This match is bound to be a ripper, and there is no shortage of fireworks whenever these two sides meet. Although this is a Sharks home game and Dugan will be eager to score against his former club, I predict the Dragons to just scrape home, on the back some great leadership from the likes of Gareth Widdop and Ben Hunt in the halves. Dragons by 2.