Cronulla’s thumping of Canberra in Round 2 will be a big morale boost as they take on a Dragons outfit looking to bounce back from a disappointing display against the Eels. The Dragons are a tale of two sides through the first two rounds in 2017, and will look to improve significantly against their southern-Sydney rivals in Cronulla this weekend.
LAST TIME OUT
The Sharks bounced back from a hard fought loss against Brisbane in Round 1, to stun the Raiders 42-16 in their first away game of the season. Cronulla had a slow start in the first half, but improved in the second, scoring 30 points and tore up the Raiders middle pack. Cronulla’s experienced forwards took advantage of what was a worn out Raiders side, and a Wade Graham hat trick propelled them to a huge victory in the end. Jack Bird’s inclusion at fullback aided the back line’s play with slick passing between the spine, and the headache of replacing Ben Barba has surely begun to disappear.
After what was arguably one of their best performances since their ‘Wayne Bennett” days in Round 1, the Dragons failed to fire on the same level against Parramatta last Sunday. A 34-16 defeat was highlighted by the strong left edge combo of Michael Jennings and Semi Radradra. The right side defense of the Dragons was heavily exposed, and the lowly ranked offense from 2016 could not find a way to re-enter the match. Off the first play of the game, Russell Packer coughed it up and Clint Gutherson scored within the first minute. The Red V continued to gift the ball to the Eels en route to a big loss.
Both teams are wide spread in terms of their talent, but their forward packs are two of the best in the competition, and their physicality in the middle will be the key battle. The Dragons, on paper, have arguably one of the best forward packs in the game, led by breakout stars Tyson Frizell and Jack De Belin, and veterans Russell Packer and Joel Thompson. Cronulla, in a similar way have a range of top forwards including Gallen, Lewis and Graham, who all have a truck load of experience. Seeing the Paul Gallen lock horns with young Jack De Belin will be an interesting battle. De Belin has had a great start to the season, and could be a key himself in leading the forward pack of the Dragons.
Whoever controls the middle, and sets up the backline with great field position, will come out on top.
The Dragons need to ignore last week’s failures and look after the ball far better. If they do this, along with good performances from their key forwards, an upset could be on the cards. But that is a big if, the Sharks have too much class for the Dragons to handle, and their bench may prove to be the difference as it was last week. The return of Valentine Holmes will calm a few heartbeats as well.
Sharks by 10
Cronulla Sharks v St George Illawarra Dragons at 6.30pm (AEDT) Sunday
Sharks: 1. Bird, 2. Feki, 3. Capewell, 4. Leutele, 5. Lee, 6. Maloney, 7. Townsend, 8. Fifita, 9. Brailey, 10. Prior, 11. Lewis, 12. Graham, 13. Gallen (C), 14. Bukuya, 15. Heighington, 16. Latimore, 17. Paulo, 18. Williams, 19. Holmes, 20. Brown, 21. Beale
Dragons: 1. Dugan, 2. MacDonald, 3. Aitken, 4. Lafai, 5. Nightingale, 6. Widdop (C), 7. McCrone, 8. Packer, 9. McInnes, 10. Vaughan, 11. Frizell, 12. Thompson, 13. De Belin, 14. Sims, 15. Ah Mau, 16. Host, 17. Mann, 18. Field, 19. Milne, 20. Leilua