The return to Kogarah wasn’t a happy one for Trent Barrett, the new Shark copping an ear full from local fans and eventually succumbing to a nasty neck injury after colliding with a team mate.
When Barrett was felled, there was serious concern – the match halting for over 5 minutes as medicos attended to the injured player. The new Sharks pivot eventually carted from the field on a stretcher, as fans new and old gave him a standing ovation as a mark of respect.
The match was littered with injuries, both sides having limited bench players by the end of the game. The departure of Trent Barrett however was the last hope the Cronulla side had, they weren’t at their best – but their gritty defence was keeping them in the game and prior to going down, Barrett was looking dangerous in attack.
Both the Saints and Sharks have similar attacking problems, the sides have quality defence and work themselves into good field position – but so often rely on kicks to get any points.
In the heat, player fitness was a crucial element. And while the Dragons side looked to be blowing harder under the torrid conditions, they had enough in the tank to get home.
It seems coach Wayne Bennett has worked hard to protect playmaker Jamie Soward, the little half regularly switching defensive positions to ‘hide’ from probing Cronulla attackers who were obviously searching him out in the line.
Paired with Sailor for a major portion of the match, Soward was well protected by the veteran and Wendell extinguished several attempted raids down his and Sowards side.
Other stand outs for the Saints, were speedster Brett Morris who was constantly dangerous with the ball. As was new boy Darius Boyd. Boyd must have had spiders on him, so many times he fielded the ball at fullback and beat 2, 3 and sometimes 4 attempted tackles.
Boyd looking to have well secured the custodian role, meaning Morris will remain on the flanks and Hornby can concentrate exclusively on the halves.
Soward kicked well and got his side out of trouble several times with a good distance kicking game.
Ben Creagh was his usual hard working best, getting the sealer try after the scores had been locked at 6-6 from not long after half time.
Both sides had their issues with poor handling the heat again playing a part here no doubt, the Dragons did look most likely to score eventually getting a touchdown in the 12th minute when playmaker Ben Hornby slipped through.
With only a 6-0 lead after halftime the Saints would have wanted to be ahead by more given their field position and likelihood to score.
The Sharks surprisingly got their try after Barrett left the field, Blake Green taking over as chief play maker and kicking to the corner for a high leaping Dave Simmons to take a quality mark and touch down – Covell converting from the edge to lock things up at 6-6.
With some possession going their way after this try, the Sharks probably should have at least nabbed a try. The pressure was falling on Blake Green to create something and with their hands failing, he resulted to kicks which at times were disappointing.
The shining light would no doubt be Anthony Toupu, as their other major offseason buy – Toup’s was proving his worth with some good runs. It wasn’t only his off-loads that threatened, but he was making massive metres on most carries and broke the line numerous times.
But Toup’s lacked support, even earlier in the day when he charged at the line from 5m – he had the big arm free but couldn’t find a Cronulla support player quick enough, another chance went begging.
The win by the Saints the first time in 5 local derby clashes against the Sharks.
Looking ahead, the Dragons will be happy to just get another win under their belts. They again have improvement left in them – but they are looking much more resolved, their grit proving a new characteristic under Bennett and the new buys.
Their big test will come next week, with the St George Illawarra side off to Brisbane to face the table topping Broncos. Not only will the flair and attacking prowess of the Broncos test them, it will have added meaning with the Bennett vs Brisbane factor creating a new juicy grudge match.
For the luck-less Sharks, well they simply can’t take a trick. Their gritty defence remains, but their attack is still no where to be found and their players are dropping like flies. With Barrett suffering a serious injury, there will be immediate concern for his well being, followed by plans to plug the massive gap he leaves.
The Cronulla side are away to the Doggies next week and at the rate they are going, every match will be an up-hill battle.