The St George Illawarra Dragons avoided joint venture history by defeating the Cronulla Sharks 30-16 at Campbelltown Sports Ground this afternoon.
The Dragons were staring down the barrel at 0-5 to start the season but the neutral venue and the earlier start due to the CO-VID19 worked wonders.
Paul McGregor rang the changes to his side which got beaten last week by the struggling Bulldogs.
The changes nearly paid off within the first 5 minutes with Matt Dufty crossing the stripe.
Unfortunately for the luckless Dragons, the try was disallowed due to Zac Lomax taking a defender out of play in the lead up.
The Sharks had a few players returning from injury had plenty of intent early especially through Toby Rudolf.
They were able to work their way down to the other end to score the first points of the match on the 7th minute mark.
A slick pass by the returning Townsend and an around-the-corner pass by Josh Dugan gave Mawene Hiroti a try on debut.
Dugan was very dangerous early on against his old club.
The try was unconverted by Johnson by but the Sharks lead 4-0.
The Dragons didn’t drop their heads which they may have been guilty of in previous weeks.
Instead, they registered their first points in 86 days or 310 minutes of football on the 14 minute mark.
A rejuvenated Dufty threw a great long ball, left to right for the flying Fijian Mikaele Ravalawa.
Zac Lomax converted for the Dragons to take a 6-4 lead.
On 21 minutes and from a mid-field scrum, a great set play got the Sharks second try through Sione Katoa.
He proved too quick on the outside of his defender to plant the ball inside the corner post.
Shaun Johnson slotted the conversion for a Sharks 10-6 lead.
With the Sharks now on a roll and a possible 10 point lead coming, they were penalised for an obstruction by the video referee.
Shaun Johnson couldn’t add to his try tally but it would have been a good confidence builder for him.
Tension started to flair with the inexperienced Adam Clune taken out late by Briton Nikora.
A penalty was sufficient by referee Henry Perenara .
Not long after, Dufty was at it again and his speed got him over the goal-line.
This started from a 1-on-1 strip.
It was Corey Norman who was shifted to five eighth supplied Dufty with a brilliant ball for him to score adjacent to the uprights.
Lomax converted for a 12-10 lead to the Dragons.
On the stroke of half-time, the under siege Ben Hunt, playing in a possibly new position, wrestled his way to the white stripe.
From a dummy and go and 5m out from the Sharks goal-line, he proved too strong for the defenders to prevent him from scoring.
Lomax converted and the Dragons went into the break leading 18-10.
The 2nd half was almost a repeat of the first half with the Dragons continuing on the first 40 minutes.
With their 20/23 completions in the first half, it provided a great platform moving into the second half with Dufty again proving to be a handful.
The luck was not going the Sharks way as they had a try disallowed to Wade Graham due to him being in an off-side position.
The first try of the second half came in the 63rd minute through Cameron McInnes.
This came from a Ben Hunt pass and he was too fast and strong for the tired defenders to score underneath the posts.
Lomax made the easy conversion to make it 24-10.
Most people would of thought this was game over but the Sharks had other ideas.
From an unsuccessful challenge by the Sharks in the 67th minute, it then didn’t take them long to get their first try in the second half and to make a game of it.
Wade Graham scored from a 1-on-1 restart.
He ran a great line off a pass from Shaun Johnson to crash over.
Johnson converts to make the game 24-16.
Norman might catch the eye of the Match Review Committee due to a trip on a Sharks player.
From this next set of six, it showed the Dragons attitude for this game was much improved from previous weeks.
This was epitomised by a sensation try-saving Tyson Frizell try to stop Katoa from scoring.
The Dragons kicking game and control throughout the game was exceptional.
The pressure and field position caused the Dragons to wrap the game up right on full time with a second try to Ravalawa in the corner.
Again, it was Dufty’s great long ball which fooled the Sharks defenders.
Loma, who was perfect with the ball all afternoon, converted to take the final score to 30-16 in the Dragons favour.
With Hunt’s move to hooker proving quite the masterstroke, Dragons coach Paul McGregor refused to say if it was long-term.
“He’s a great person, Benny, he understood the reason behind it,” McGregor said.
“We had a good conversation before I announced that side.
“It was just more about him relaxing a little bit and going out and enjoying his footy.
NRL News Player of the Game
3. Matt Dufty
2. Paul Vaughan
- Wade Graham