St George Illawarra Dragons v Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks: Lineups, preview and predictions

WIN Stadium, Friday 13th April, 7:50pm AEST

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Overview 

Here we have the second instalment of the Southern Sydney Derby for 2018, featuring the Dragons playing host to bitter rivals, the Sharks. Although this match features the two teams from Southern Sydney, it will be played in Wollongong, to accomodate for the Dragons supporters based there. 

The Dragons continued their unbeaten start to 2018 with a gritty 16-12 win over the Rabbitohs, having survived a late scare from the bunnies. This win ensured that it was their fifth consecutive victory, which was actually a new record for the club. As the Saints are now on 10 competition points after five rounds, a finals berth is theirs to lose, as only one club has missed the finals after such a start to the season – the Cowboys in 2006. 

For the Sharks, their inconsistency was worryingly highlighted last week, as they were given a reality check by the Roosters at home, to the tune of 28-10. The other concern to have emerged from their humbling by the Chooks last week is their conspicuous inability to post points, despite the amount of possession which they had. The Shire boys have ample motivation to return to the winners’ circle, as they travel down the Princes Motorway to take on their fiercest of rivals. 

Adding fuel to an already burning fire is Josh Dugan, as he returns to Wollongong in Sharks colours to take on his former team. There is minimal doubt that he will not only want to have a good game, but will want to snare a try against his former team. Similarly, his former teammates will surely be willing to pile on the misery for Dugan and his new club, as well as rip into him.

Recent meetings 

2018 – Rd 2 – St George Illawarra Dragons 20 def. Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks 16 at Southern Cross Group Stadium. 

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. 

Following their victory over their local rivals in round 2 this year, the Dragons extend their overall lead in the head-to-head encounters. The red and whites have 21 victories to their name, with the Sharks on 19 victories, followed by a lone draw in 2001. Moreover, the Dragons have won three of the five most recent meetings between the two sides, as can be seen above. 

Given the aforementioned, these are statistics which must surely leave a very sour taste in the mouths of Sharks supporters, coupled by the fact that they squandered a 14-0 lead in their most recent encounter at home, to lose 20-16. As for that match, the Shire boys had the lion’s share of possession, coupled with the wind at their back and an additional man advantage, yet were unable to topple their bitter rivals. This adds to their already extensive list of motivating factors to exact revenge on their sworn enemy and snare victory. 

As for the matches between the two rivals at Wollongong, there have been six matches played, in which the Dragons have triumphed in five of these matches, with the Sharks nabbing their sole victory there in 2013. As this is being played down in the Gong, this is yet another statistic which the Sharks will want to put right.

Selected teams

St George Illawarra Dragons Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks
1 Matthew Dufty Matt Moylan
2 Nene MacDonald Edrick Lee
3 Euan Aitken Josh Dugan
4 Tim Lafai Ricky Leutele
5 Jason Nightingale Valentine Holmes
6 Gareth Widdop Trent Hodkinson
7 Ben Hunt Chad Townsend
8 James Graham Andrew Fifita
9 Cameron McInnes Jayden Brailey
10 Paul Vaughan Matt Prior
11 Tyson Frizell Luke Lewis
12 Tariq Sims Wade Graham
13 Jack de Belin Paul Gallen
Interchange
14 Jeremy Latimore Kurt Capewell
15 Kurt Mann Kurt Dillon
16 Leeson Ah Mau Ava Seumanufagai
17 Hame Sele Joseph Paulo
Reserves
18 Jacob Horst Jesse Ramien
19 Zachary Lomax Scott Sorensen
20 Reece Robson Jack Williams
21 Blake Lawrie Kyle Flanagan

The facts that matter

Dragons 

As stated earlier, the Dragons set a club record last week, by winning their fifth consecutive match, to start the season undefeated. Eight more victories, coupled by two byes, will almost guarantee their participation in the finals this season. However, history has not been kind to them since their premiership in 2010, as they have been notorious for their late-season fade-outs. In fact, since 2010, the Dragons have only participated in the finals twice (2011 and 2015). 

However, their first five rounds demonstrated that not only can the Saints win handsomely, but they can grind out victories, as they showed last week against the Rabbitohs last week, and the Sharks in round 2. Further exemplifying the Dragons’ impressive form is the fact that the key statistics which they are ranked first in, such as points scored, tries scored, possession, set completion and try assists.

Sharks 

Conversely, the Sharks’ worrying inability to score enough points has been a trend throughout these opening rounds of the season, as they have only crossed the try line only eight times this season. This is definitely rather concerning when you consider the fact that players such as Josh Dugan and Matt Moylan were brought in to bolster their attack, which has largely lacked potency since their breakthrough premiership in 2016. 

However, it is not all bad for the Sharks boys. Firstly, although they are ranked 11th overall, they are ranked in the top eight, in terms of points conceded, suggesting their defence is reasonably sound. Moreover, they have made three intercepts, which is actually more than any team has made, as well as being statistically ranked fifth in terms of offloads made. In addition, it also appears that they have improved their completion rate, when you consider the fact that they were ranked last in ball security for 2017.

Prediction

Whenever these two teams meet, there are two things guaranteed to happen. There is an expectation that an abundance of fireworks from both sets of players be on display, as well as an electric atmosphere from the supporters, who hate the opposing team with a passion. Despite the game being played in Wollongong instead of Kogarah, there is no reason why it will be any different. 

The rivalry matches are just some of the types of matches which are among my personal favourites, especially when the scoreline is close. Therefore, I would love to see the Sharks attempt to exact revenge on their bitter rivals for their loss to them in round 2, by ripping into their archenemies and making the rivalry even more intriguing. 

However, with the form that the Dragons are in, it’s difficult to see them slipping up here, especially in a match where local bragging rights are at stake. As such, I will tip the Dragons to do four things here: win the match, record a sixth consecutive victory for the season, complete the double over their bitter rivals and claim local bragging rights for 2018. Dragons by 8.

Who will come out on top when these two bitter rivals clash, the Dragons or the Sharks? Let us know in the comments and poll below.

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