The St. George Illawarra Dragons are off the mark in 2013, following an impressive 25-12 victory over Cronulla at Sharks Stadium tonight in front of over 20,000 fans.
A near-capacity crowd of 20,130 packed in to witness the local derby with the Dragons scoring first and never being headed all the way to the final siren.
The visitors suffered a blow in the lead-up to the match when prop Michael Weyman was ruled out with a calf strain. Early reports are that it could be a 2-4 week injury.
The Sharks started slow and the Dragons had a significant spring in their step which was in contrast to their last match against the Raiders last Sunday. It appeared as though coach Steve Price told his players to go out and have fun and the dour, unimaginative Dragons’ side which has become apparent in the first three weeks of the competition was missing. The visitors didn’t appear scared to throw the ball around and it worked wonders in the 11th minute courtesy of Trent Merrin. Halfback Nathan Fien delivered a short ball to his workhorse who stuck his nose through the Sharks defence before offloading around the corner for his halfback who scored alongside the posts.
They extended their lead to 12-0 five minutes later through five-eighth Jamie Soward. As the Sharks pressed the Dragons line on their right side attack, second-rower Luke Lewis forced the pass which was scooped up by the Dragons pivot who won a 75m dash to the line despite the best efforts of Beau Ryan and Todd Carney.
Carney was helped from the field in the 34th minute after his ankle was caught in a tackle and twisted the wrong way. Early reports were that he heard something crack. Sharks fans and Carney will have a nervous wait until scan results are known.
The Sharks, however didn’t lie down and in the shadows of halftime were back in the match courtesy of a bizarre try setup by halfback Jeff Robson. He grubbered on the last and with the ball appearing certain to go dead, centre Ben Pomeroy knocked the ball back into the field of play. Robson won the scramble for the ball just ahead of winger Beau Ryan and after Michael Gordon’s conversion the two sides went to the break with the Dragons ahead 12-6.
Dragons winger Jason Nightingale did his best Superman impersonation in the 49th minute to extend the visitors lead back out to two converted tries when he contorted his body so it was in the air above the sideline while he scored the try in the corner. Despite the best attempts of Sharks fans to put him off while throwing rubber balls, Soward added the extras from the sideline and the Dragons never looked back.
Sharks prop Andrew Fifita ensured the visitors were a little nervous when he scored a barnstorming try in the 56th minute after he charged onto a short ball from Isaac De Gois following a quick play-the-ball.
Nightingale added another try to his personal tally when he won the race to a Nathan Fien grubber kick on the last tackle. Sharks fullback Michael Gordon appeared to have the ball covered but it took a wicked bounce and Nightingale placed his hands on the ball millimetres inside the dead ball line. Again Soward added the extras from the sideline before piloting a 30-metre field goal between the posts inside the final 10 minutes to put the Dragons out by 13.
The 25-12 victory eases the pressure on coach Steve Price and could kickstart their 2013 campaign. They host the Knights at WIN Jubilee next Sunday at 3pm while the Sharks travel to Parramatta Stadium next Saturday evening at 5.30pm.