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The Cronulla Sharks have beaten the St George Illawarra Dragons 18-12 in an ugly edition of the local derby. The Sharks now move back into the top eight and continue their finals push while the Dragons still haven’t won consecutive games since Round 6.
In what was perhaps the worst game of the season the two teams combined for 33 errors and 11 penalties and at points both teams looked like they wanted to lose.
The Sharks started the game relatively strongly and in the first half they were dominant across all areas of the park, leading 12-6 at the break. Only a couple bad last passes stopped the score from being well out of reach of the Dragons in the first forty and Bronson Xerri continues to be hot and cold with his handling.
In the second half the feeling was completely reversed as the Dragons were camped in the Sharks 20 but their attacking combinations never even looked like threatening the Sharks.
After an eternity they got an opportunity through some ugly broken play that Leilua, playing as a makeshift half once Ben Hunt was taken off with concussion, ran through to score.
In the end the Sharks managed to nab a late try after a kick was left to bounce by the Dragons backs and Xerri picked it up to score under the posts.
Dragons coach Paul McGregor will no doubt be full of praise for his team after they played the back end of the game with only one interchange as Tyson Frizell, Ben Hunt and Patrick Kaufusi all succumbed to their HIA tests.
However, the reality is the Dragons attack was bad for the whole game and never looked like it would trouble the Sharks. Only a mistake from Moylan and some major broken play allowed them to score and all their actual attacking combinations looked toothless and slow.
On the other hand the Sharks looked like they would score on every attacking set and need to figure out how to relax and not overplay their hand when they get an opportunity.
In the end the better team won but this game raises far more questions than it answers and the Sharks will need to find these solutions quickly.
Cronulla Sharks 18
St George Illawarra Dragons 12
The Cronulla Sharks will be hoping to restart their charge for the finals when they take on the St George Illawarra Dragons this Sunday at PointsBet Stadium. Join The Roar for live scores and a blog of the match, starting at 4:05pm AEST.
The Sharks are still desperately trying to nab one of the final two spots in the top eight and now, after the Broncos and Knights both won this weekend, their margin for error has become razor thin.
A loss to their local rivals here would mean their next three games basically turn into elimination finals. These games include fixtures against the high flying Raiders and the equally desperate Tigers at Leichhardt in Round 25, a prospect that would be very uncomfortable if it turns out to be a do-or-die game.
On the other hand the Dragons are playing for nothing more than pride and the chance to spoil their bitter enemies chance at a second premiership.
The Dragons have been extremely disappointing all season and now, with an almost full strength team, they will be looking for some positive signs they can take into the offseason.
An away win that puts the Sharks on the brink of elimination would be a tasty prize in a season devoid of much enjoyment for the red and white army.
The key matchup will be on the Dragons right edge, which leaked an astonishing 22 points last weekend against the last place Titans.
This weekend Euan Aitken and Zac Lomax will be up against representative quality players in Josh Dugan and Josh Morris.
If the Dragons combination isn’t much improved then this will be an absolute blood bath and the game could be over quick.
The Dragons would love to beat their rivals and they have the cattle to match them in the middle but their horrific edge defence will make them easy pickings for the Sharks outside backs.
Sharks by 16
Join The Roar for live scores and a blog of the match, starting at 4:05pm AEST.
Kick-off: 4:05pm (AEST)
Venue: PointsBet Stadium, Woolooware
TV: Live, Fox League 501, Channel 9
Online: Live, Kayo Sports, Foxtel App, Foxtel Now, NRL Digital Pass, 9Now
Betting: Cronulla $1.34, St George Illawarra $3.20
Overall record: Played 43 Cronulla 20, St. George Illawarra 22, 1 Draw
Last meeting: Round 11 2019, St. George Illawarra Dragons 9 defeated by the Cronulla Sharks 22 at WIN Stadium, Wollongong
Record at venue: Sharks 11, Dragons 7
Referees: Adam Gee, Jon Stone
1. Matt Moylan
2. Sosaia Feki
3. Bronson Xerri
4. Josh Dugan
5. Josh Morris
6. Shaun Johnson
7. Chad Townsend
8. Aaron Woods
9. Jayden Brailey
10. Matt Prior
11. Briton Nikora
12. Wade Graham
13. Paul Gallen
14. Kurt Capewell
15. Jack Williams
16. Billy Magoulias
17. Braden Hamlin-Uele
1. Corey Norman
2. Jason Saab
3. Euan Aitken
4. Tim Lafai
5. Mikaele Ravalawa
6. Gareth Widdop (C)
7. Ben Hunt
8. James Graham
9. Cameron McInnes
10. Paul Vaughan
11. Patrick Kaufusi
12. Luciano Leilua
13. Tyson Frizell
14. Jeremy Latimore
15. Korbin Sims
16. Blake Lawrie
17. Jackson Ford