The Dragons and Sharks both walked away from their round 1 match with solid performances against two of last year’s powerhouse clubs. Following their respective visits to two of the hardest round trips in the NRL they renew their fierce rivalry in the 37th edition of the southern local derby.

LAST TIME OUT

Starting the year facing the reigning NRL and World Club Champions in Townsville was never an easy assignment, however the Sharks put a strong performance in and looked to have the upper hand late in the match when they drew level at 14 all with the Cowboys. A late Cowboys try proved the difference as the Sharks big men became fatigued.

Throughout the match the Sharks looked strong in defense, with their new halves combination putting in a solid start to the year. Once Maloney and Townsend have more time on the park together – good things will follow.

Thoughts of a hoodoo were a distant memory 10 minutes into the Dragons first outing of the year as they raced to a 10 point lead. Melbourne have been virtually unbeatable at home in round 1 of the season and the last time the Dragons beat the Storm in Melbourne John Howard was Prime Minister.

A rigid defense looks to be the building block for the 2016 Dragons, as in past years. They proved steadfast to the Melbourne attacking raids which seemed to have their lethal edge back following the return of Billy Slater.

There were some concerns for the Dragons on the edges as the Storm successful went around them early on. It was the Dragons lack of discipline that costs them dearly in their 2 point loss, with the 2 Cameron Smith penalty goals proving the final difference in a tightly fought match.

KEY BATTLE

The Sharks and Dragons line up very evenly across the park, with both teams aiming to dominate in the middle of the park before sending early ball to their talented outside backs.. The two key match-ups that will go a long way to determining the result will be in the forwards (specifically the battle between Andrew Fafita and Tyson Frizell) and out wide with Josh Dugan and Jack Bird.

Fifita and Frizell are the game breakers for both teams, extremely talented forwards who have the ability to take their teams to victory whilst at the same time possessing a lapse in concentration that can often put their teams under pressure. The reduction in interchange will be the making of players in the mould of Fifita and Frizell in 2016, as forwards tire around them they become even more potent and will have a hand in many victories this year.

The first side to establish dominance in the forwards will then be looking to get early ball to their danger men. Dugan and Bird are poised to be the weapons out wide that have the potential to give their side the edge.

PREDICTION

The Dragons have won 5 of the last 7 between the two sides with two of those wins coming at Remondis Stadium. Both the Dragons and the Sharks enjoy playing day matches with the Dragons winning 8 of their 12 days matches in 2015 and the Sharks winning 8 of their last 9 day games in 2015.

The key characteristic of both of these teams throughout last year was to grind their way to victories on the back of their forward packs and tenacious defense. The Sharks look to have more flair in attack this year with the addition of Maloney and the move of Barba to fullback. Given the likely defensive nature of this match this could be decisive and give the Sharks an edge. The Dragons will likely start strong as they did in Melbourne on Monday night however they will need to ensure they preserve their shape as the match wears on to stop the Sharks hurting them out wide once the big forwards start to tire. In years gone by the Sharks have struggled without their inspirational leader Paul Gallen, however last year they showed they could win without him and still have the forwards to challenge on any given day.

Don’t be at all surprised at all if the 6pm News is delayed on Sunday night, this one will go down to the wire, golden point beckons. Sharks by 1 in another closely fought local derby battle.

SQUADS

CRONULLA-SUTHERLAND SHARKS
1 Ben Barba
2 Sosaia Feki
3 Jack Bird
4 Ricky Leutele
5 Valentine Holmes
6 James Maloney
7 Chad Townsend
8 Andrew Fifita
9 Michael Ennis (c)
10 Sam Tagatese
11 Luke Lewis (c)
12 Wade Graham
13 Jayson Bukuya
INTERCHANGE
14 Gerard Beale
15 Matt Prior
16 David Fifita
17 Joseph Paulo

ST GEORGE-ILLAWARRA DRAGONS
1 Kurt Mann
2 Euan Aitkin
3 Josh Dugan
4 Timoteo Lafai
5 Jason Nightingale
6 Gareth Widdop (c)
7 Benji Marshall
8 Leeson Ah Mau
9 Mitch Rein
10 Russel Packer
11 Tyson Frizell
12 Will Matthews
13 Mike Cooper
INTERCHANGE
14 Ben Creagh
15 Jack de Belin
16 Dunamis Lui
17 Siliva Havili
18 Peter Mata’utia
19 Jake Marketo