Cronulla Sharks 10 St. George / Illawarra Dragons 16
6:30 pm, Sunday 19th March
Shark Park, Sydney
Alright, maybe there is a hangover. I can’t figure us out at the minute. The first three performances of the season would make more sense in any order other than the order they’ve happened in. You could look at them and take encouragement from how the strongest showing was against a side fancied for the premiership. But Sunday was dreadful, and our status as reigning premiers does little to make a defeat to St. George hurt less. The coach has rightly called it Cronulla’s worst display in 12 months. He’ll have spent the days since making it clear that levels cannot drop to those lows again.
The Sharks are slow out of the blocks. That in itself is nothing new. But whereas last year they found ways to convert off-days into victories, recently Cronulla are allowing errors to beget more errors; frustration to beget indiscipline. No complaints can be made about the 9-3 penalty count. Fifita’s petulant shove while in possession 15 minutes from time is the clearest example, as it presents two gifted points, and a foothold in the match at a stage when the opposition is battling to grab one. But the pattern was established long before then.
Nothing to do with the attack would click or stick. In part this is due to the first half’s disrupted nature; whenever the Sharks reached a promising position, someone went down with an injury. (The loss of Graham had a heavy impact on Maloney, whose passes to the left edge were repeatedly fired behind teammates not quite on the same page). That can be addressed during the week. More concerning was the lack of urgency. A collective assumption that things would just happen. That Saints would succumb to the inevitable, as often occurred during that wonderful winning run. Any traces of such a mindset must be obliterated. Newcastle aren’t the plucky pushovers who leaked 8 tries on their last visit to Woolooware. On April 1st, they’ll fancy themselves with a chance of snatching a famous win, and the Sharks could rue giving them any early encouragement.
Back to the most recent match. Three different back fives in as many weeks can’t be doing wonders for attacking combinations. We shouldn’t fault the defence too much – restricting a side to two tries should nearly always be sufficient for a win. Though the Dragons defended their line resiliently, they carried no real potency in the other direction. The disappointment lies in how neither try required them to do anything special. I’m willing to write the first one off, being of the view that grubber kicks are more or less luck-of-the-draw, so long as nobody’s guilty of dithering. The second is the killer. Leutele undoes the gains of a good run by forcing an off-load that wasn’t on, but he isn’t helped out by two or three flimsy missed tackles on Euan Aitken, who runs 50 metres to bag a double, and can’t believe his luck.
There’s a reaction in the third quarter of the match, as there had to be. But you were hoping more than expecting a third try to follow, because both of Cronulla’s had involved a degree of fortuitousness. By 65, the Sharks had exhausted all their ideas. I don’t want to see that again. When we lose, the result should be kept in doubt for as long as possible. Make them sweat and stress til the end. Playing even 80 per cent as well as we’re able to will be more than most sides can handle. Back to that, please, Cronulla. There’s a chance for derby revenge in just over a month. Plenty to do before then. When we head to ANZ on Saturday for the first time since October 2nd, remember that night. Remember how it felt. And at the risk of sounding like your boyfriend’s Instagram, let’s create more memories.
St George / Illawarra Dragons 16 (Euan Aitken 2 tries; Gareth Widdop 5 goals) defeated Cronulla Sharks 10 (Luke Lewis, Edrick Lee tries; James Maloney 1 goal). Crowd: 14,247.