The Dragons’ wondrous season so far came to a nervous halt after a poor first half display against Melbourne, conceding 22 early points and effectively proving how far away from the top they are. The Sharks on the other hand enter round 10 siting third on the ladder and coming off a hard fought 22-16 win over the Tigers. Both sides enter the game with promising seasons so far, and more so looking forward.
Last Time Out:
Cronulla travelled to Leichhardt Oval and took on the Wests Tigers, who were trembling at the then probability of both Aaron Woods and James Tedesco leaving the club (which of course now has been confirmed). Cronulla needed a confidence boost after an unexpected loss to the Titans at home the previous week, where they were fairly outplayed. The Tigers converted an early penalty through Mitchell Moses, but that was soon overshadowed by two tries within four minutes, scored by Tony Williams and Sosaia Feki to give Cronulla a 12-2 lead after 15 minutes. Cronulla were later given a present wrapped in a bow when both Aaron Woods and James Tedesco left the field with injuries, meaning Wests would be thin for weapons later on. The Tigers though maintained a strong attack, and continuously threatened the Sharks line. A controversial no try ruling after a Paul Gallen ‘hollywood’ left Wests fans reeling, and the Tigers only moments later would cash in and bring the scores back to 12-8 with a beautiful play from Luke Brooks to set up Kevin Naiqama. Seven minutes later would see the lead change, as the Tigers entered half time 14-12 up and looking the more clinical side. As the second half came the Sharks attacked the line early though Feki, who unfortunately lost the ball in what was a certain try. Another penalty to Moses was not enough to hold out the Sharks, as later on they scored through Chad Townsend with 10 minutes left. As always Wade Graham was a huge part of Cronulla’s success against the Tigers, able to set up two tries while smothering the opposition on the defensive side.
The Dragons had the luxury of a home game against a high class side in the Storm, and needed all the help they could get from their home support to take down the premiership favourites. Melbourne however had other ideas, and were powered up by their back three. Four early tries, with flying Fijian Suliasi Vunivalu scoring two impressive ones, along with newcomer Josh Addo-Carr adding two of his own, helped Melbourne to a 22-0 advantage after 25 minutes. The Storm’s 65 percent completion rate led to a huge lead at half time, where arguably no Dragon player could help the side from their woeful depths. The second half started a similar way, with Billy Slater scoring two tries by the 53rd minute mark to increase the advantage to 34-4. The back three of Melbourne all scored a double, and combined for 419 metres compared to the Dragon back three’s production of 382 metres. The Dragons salvaged some dignity, with fur second half tries including a hat trick for Jason Nightingale. Widdop’s absence due to injury may very well have been the factor that decided the Dragon’s fate, with not only their halves play looking average but their goal kicking game as well, with Dugan missing four of his five attempts. The Dragons will once again be without Widdop, and McCrone unnervingly will be their main man in the halves. As well as that, Dugan will be out for a significant period of time due to his broken cheekbone he suffered against the Kiwis. As much as the Dragons have a fair amount of depth, the quality is beginning to decline in their starting 13.
Jack De Belin continues to run under the radar, and with Paul Gallen as the Cronulla hard-man always being an inspiration, both the lock forwards will be vital for their respective sides.
De Belin is having a career year, and his unique footwork mixed with his power running makes him arguably one of the best up and coming locks in the game. De Belin’s numbers have been maintained at a high level throughout the year, managing over 150 running metres in the game on three occasions, as well as averaging 35 tackles a game. Gallen has managed to avoid the retirement ‘bug’ for a couple of years now, and has decided to step back from rep footy. Whether you want to say his age is catching up with him or not, his ‘moving backward’ gives him more ability to focus on Cronulla and his output for them. As much as Gallen isn’t playing his best footy, or at least maintaining a high level of it, he is still a steam engine who powers forward as good as anyone in the team. Defensively he always applies a bucket load of intensity, and his leadership is, if anything, more valuable now that Ennis has retired.
Both forward packs are filled with talent and will be looking to gain an edge in the middle. A leader from the front is always needed, and for different reasons in regard to age and impact, De Belin and Gallen will be there boosting up their men.
Prediction: The Dragons went to Shark Park earlier in the year and tackled the Sharks with a brilliant defensive performance. Since then both teams have improved on their games, but their average performance against the Storm showed the Dragons may not have what it takes to compete with the best. If all goes well for them, Cronulla should come out on top. Sharks by 8
Dragons: 1. Jason Nightingale 2. Nene Macdonald 3. Euan Aitken 4. Timoteo Lafai 5. Taane Milne 6. Kurt Mann 7. Josh McCrone 8. Russell Packer 9. Cameron McInnes 10. Paul Vaughan 11. Tyson Frizell 12. Joel Thompson 13. Jack de Belin 14. Tariq Sims 15. Leeson Ah Mau 16. Hame Sele 17. Jai Field 18. Kalifa Faifai Loa 19. Jacob Host 20. Luciano Leilua 21. Siliva Havili
Sharks: 1. Valentine Holmes 2. Sosaia Feki 3. Jack Bird 4. Ricky Leutele 5. Gerard Beale 6. James Maloney 7. Chad Townsend 8. Andrew Fifita 9. Jayden Brailey 10. Matt Prior 11. Luke Lewis 12. Wade Graham 13. Paul Gallen 14. Joseph Paulo 15. Chris Heighington 16. Jeremy Latimore 17. Kurt Capewell 18. Sam Tagataese 19. Daniel Mortimer 20. Edrick Lee 21. Kurt Dillon