A Euan Aitken double has fired St George Illawarra to a surprise 16-10 NRL win over local rivals Cronulla at Southern Cross Group Stadium on Sunday.
Widely tipped to be cellar dwellers this year, it was Paul McGregor’s side’s second win of the year as they held off wave after wave of Sharks attack to claim a confidence-boosting victory.
The Sharks had 37 tackles inside the opposition 20m zone, compared with the Dragons’ 21, and enjoyed 59 per cent of possession.
Five times they crossed the line but ultimately only had two four-pointers to show for it.
After the Sharks lost just one match at Shark Park last year, they are now 0-2 at their home ground after three rounds.
Aitken’s first-half double secured the Dragons’ second win of the season with Jack de Belin (186m and 31 tackles) playing one of his best games.
The Dragons shot out to a surprise 14-0 lead by halftime however the Sharks would have considered themselves unlucky.
Ricky Leutele should have scored but failed to cleanly ground a James Maloney grubber while Andrew Fifita was held up over the line.
And when Leutele tried to push the pass on a break down the left edge, Aitken picked up the loose ball and ran 60 metres to get his second.
The Sharks thought they had reduced the deficit on the stroke of halftime however Edrick Lee’s final pass to Leutele was called forward.
The second half began in similar fashion to the first – Leutele looked certain to score but had the ball dislodged in a desperate cover tackle by Josh McCrone and Josh Dugan.
It was a case of fifth time lucky as the Sharks finally got on the scoreboard when Luke Lewis – who was in everything all night – grounded the ball when Gareth Widdop failed to clean up a Chad Townsend grubber.
That took the sting out of the Dragons and Shane Flanagan’s side parlayed their dominance of field position into points when a bad read by Nene MacDonald led to Lee strolling over to reduce the deficit to just four.
The Sharks were delivered a blow when Wade Graham left the field for his second concussion test of the night.
The Sharks were again denied when Kurt Capewell was help up before Fifita gave away a dumb penalty 20m out from his own goalline when he pushed McCrone’s face as they lay in the tackle.
The ensuing Widdop penalty gave the Dragons a six-point break as they held on for their second win of the year.