NRL Round 10 – St. George/Illawarra v Cronulla: Birthdays

St. George / Illawarra Dragons  14   Cronulla Sharks   18

6:00 pm, Friday 12th May

Kogarah Oval, Sydney

Paul Macadam

 

If there’s more to life, let me forget all about it tonight.

 

My throat’s gone. I can barely speak. Who knows how I’m gonna sing later. My legs ache from hours of anxious standing. Is it acceptable for a bassist to sit down on stage? Guess we’ll find out.

 

James Maloney puts a kick into touch purely to let his teammates’ exhausted legs rest for a bit. Cronulla trail by two. There are 15 minutes left. Jack Bird is on his knees. About nine Sharks are standing within ten metres of each other. Recent injuries have taken their toll not on the starting lineup but on the bench, where none of Chris Heighington (compassionate leave), Jason Bukuya or James Segeyaro can be called upon. That no players wearing jerseys numbered 14 to 17 were used for more than 20 minutes isn’t their fault, though it does drains energy from forwards asked to carry more of the load than normal. On a night of few chances, you get the sense there might only be one more.

 

Townsend finds space on the right and steals 40 metres. They’re gone if we move it left quick enough. The pass goes from Graham to Fifita when you’d  rather if it were Maloney to Graham. Fifita, far more accustomed to running through the middle than the edge, can’t use the overlap before the ball is stripped from his hands. It really, really should be a penalty but once you’ve got a mark against your name, referees have no interest in benefit of doubt. That was the chance. On the blue side of the hill, heads go down and voices go quiet. But these Sharks refuse to accept the most likely sequence of events. They write their own endings.

 

As is so often the case in derbies, the match’s opening quarter is higher on physicality than finesse. First points arriving courtesy of a Matt Prior shoulder charge (which will keep him out of Thursday’s game) sums that up. An instance or two where they’re close, with combinations falling slightly astray. You wouldn’t pick Evan Aitken as the Dragons’ most crucial figure, but when he’s forced off the field, three others in the backline are forced into different positions. Val Holmes takes a kick return up to the 40. Then involved again on the 4th tackle; searching for ways to join attacks rather than waiting to be directed. Ricky Leutele gets the try to his name, but Val made it happen.

 

Having scored first, the Sharks follow this with a wild and wayward 15 minutes. Graham tries to trap the kick-off with his foot, and it trickles over the sideline. Saints hit straight back. Then Graham loses possession on his next hit-up. Nor is he alone. Townsend drops it cold from a scrum. Then his frustration results in a penalty. Cronulla hold out til the break but they’re creating more problems for themselves than the Dragons are posing. You take 8-6, on balance.

 

Josh McCrone can’t help but keep kicking it dead. Three times in ten minutes. It’s like his controller’s broken. Sharks can’t cash in. Another tense passage of desperate defence. St. George are causing trouble through their forwards but without Widdop and Dugan they’re short of ways to convert that to points. Next set. Wade Graham is the third half Penrith wish Bryce Cartwright was. He decides to run it on the last. Again down the Dragons’ right edge; again there’s a gap. If we’re honest it’s a joke that Leutele’s pass to Feki isn’t called forward. But after years of 50-50 calls leaning 45-55 to avoid upsetting the premiers of the day, I’m not inclined to feel sorry for too many teams. The lead doesn’t last long. Nobody’s lead has lasted too long at all. Not content with having scored himself, Paul Vaughan flicks a backhanded offload to his fellow prop, Russell Packer. One can praise the move while lamenting the mistake and penalty combo which preceded it.

 

You know about the spirit of these lads. They see a sliding door close, and beat it open with a cricket bat. Three minutes after the Fifita chance, they craft another. Bird offloads to Graham while falling backwards (both recovered superbly from poor first halves), Graham goes as close to the line as Lewis did in the grand final. The next few seconds are a mess, but again it’s Bird with the decisive touch. All tries down the same edge. Reveal a weakness, and the Sharks will exploit it. Feki bags a double. Sosaia really ought to have a hat-trick by the end but we’ll let that one slide. Back in front with nine minutes to go. Maloney makes it three out of three from the sideline. Clutch. If a kick were to save my life, I’d have either him or Luke Covell lining it up. Cronulla see it out the time with minimum fuss.

 

A decade of waiting for a win at Kogarah. The scenes at full-time. The essence of joy; of why we bother doing this. More than the glory, it’s about nights and days like this. Nothing beats leaving one on your rivals… nothing except being there. Yes, six o’clock kickoffs are a drain on everyone bar Nine executives. But this fixture still means a lot. For weeks following a St. George/Illawarra win, the 55 per cent of Saints fans who live in Caringbah are sure to let you know. Haven’t seen half as many red and white jerseys around town this week as I did last. It’s mad how many things go your way after a win. Out the ground and straight on a train. Two weeks ago I waited 25 minutes; this time, barely 25 seconds. Kept myself scarce by buttoning a jacket over my jersey, and adopting the most neutral expression I could. Part of me wished I was heading back south on the victory train, but the gig was great.

 

Sorry these are taking so long. By the time you read this, Cronulla will have already played North Queensland. The games start coming and they don’t stop coming. Four more homes in a row after that one. The run that arguably holds the key to our season. Win four of those five, and we’ll be beautifully placed to achieve whatever we want to. The home form’s been ordinary but I reckon they can sort it. Up, up Cronulla. May we sing that song for as long as we live.

 

Cronulla Sharks 18 (Sosaia Feki 2, Ricky Leutele tries; James Maloney 3 goals) defeated St. George / Illawarra Dragons 14 (Paul Vaughan, Russell Packer tries; Tim Lafai 3 goals). Crowd: 15 927.

 

About Paul Macadam

Songwriter under my own name, drummer for Library Siesta. Newly ecstatic Cronulla tragic who also loves Liverpool because life wasn’t meant to be easy. Too slow for the wing, too skinny for the second row.

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