Almanac Rugby League – NRL Round 2, 2016: Sharks v Dragons – Doing boring well, Cronulla blend flair with toil in the heat

Cronulla Sharks 30  St. George/Illawarra Dragons 2

4:00 pm, Sunday 13th March

Southern Cross Group Stadium, Sydney

Paul Macadam


It’s churlish of me, but I’m beginning with a gripe. Southern Cross Group Stadium. Let the words swish around your mouth. Southern Cross. Group. Stadium. I understand that $1.5 million is a huge coup for a club on the brink of closure less than three years ago, and a company specialising in cleaning and concierge services is fairly innocuous, but this naming rights deal carries baggage which you don’t need me to explain. At least they added “Group” to soften the connotations. It was Shark Park when I was eight years old, and to a certain generation, it always will be.


Everyone looks knackered after 20 minutes. A combination of unseasonal heat and the new reduced interchange law (from 10 to 8) is discouraging clubs from stockpiling enormous forwards, then rotating them every quarter of an hour. Up to this point, the match has been a garden variety local derby; high on mistakes / amusing moments, low on actual football. Suddenly, Marshall glides past Fifita and Lewis like they don’t exist. He finds Nightingale, with only grass in front of him. Sosaia Feki behind him, though. Nightingale sprints with all his heart, but very much like a man with 198 first grade games in his legs. Feki cuts him down. Holds on a moment too long. Penalty, professional foul, sin bin. Sharks down to 12 players.


Bafflingly, Creagh points to the posts to go 2-0 up, instead of seeking a lead twice or thrice that margin. This is the first in a series of profound errors the Dragons will make over the next ten minutes. Russell Packer – built like a tank, but not a particularly good footballer – drops a routine pass, and pressure is relieved. Widdop kicks out on the full, having neglected to factor in the wind. You know the one. That weird Shark Park wind which seems to circulate through the ground while somehow leaving the rest of the shire alone. Once Feki returns with the Sharks attacking via one of three penalties the Dragons concede in his absence, the course of the match has been irreversibly set.


Sensing a demoralised opponent, Cronulla switch to ruthless mode. He’ll never again be cartoon-fast as he was in 2012, but Barba still has proper pace, and he comfortably runs in for the opening try. Two minutes later, Townsend kicks, wins a fortuitous rebound off Widdop’s backside, weaves around Rein, spots Holmes flying down the wing unmarked, and finds him with a delightful outside-of-the-boot chip. Valentine Holmes claims the kick with one hand. Valentine. Two hands, mate. Catch it with two hands. Reminds me of how David Peachey, when about to score, used to insist on planting the ball an inch inside the dead ball line. Because he knew it’d be alright. He just knew. Valentine knows.


Last minute before half-time. From 10 metres out, Chad Townsend kicks for himself, snatches the ball from Widdop’s grasp (poor Widdop again), and scores. It’s now 18-2. I lost track of Townsend while he was in New Zealand. Whatever happened, he’s returned to Cronulla twice the player he was before. More of that, Chad. We’ll have much more of that, thanks.


The most remarkable thing about the second half is how unlikely a comeback appears. Both sides are sloppy from 41 to 50. Playing catch-up football in December temperatures is no easier than playing catch-up football in July drizzle, and St. George/Illawarra’s decision making falters in the humidity. Their completion rate is a dire 19/34. Old Cronullla would have found a way to make this a challenge, to make this difficult. New Cronulla does boring well when it’s required. You must be able to do boring well. Since last season, there’s been spontaneity along with the graft, too. When further chances arrive, Bukuya and Leutele pounce. In the final play of the match, Tagataese utterly flattens de Belin. Actions like that send a message. Make a statement. They’re relentless.


We’ve got those dreadful Sea Eagles next week. They’ll be less charitable than the Saints were, but future fixtures can wait. Enjoy this. Start your week with the sense that – however fleetingly – all is fine with the world. Up the thrillingly boring Sharks. Thirty of your points to two of your points. Have a lovely Monday.


CRONULLA SHARKS 30 (Ben Barba, Valentine Holmes, Chad Townsend, Jason Bukuya, Ricky Leutele tries, James Maloney 5 goals) defeated ST. GEORGE/ILLAWARRA DRAGONS 2 (Gareth Widdop 1 goal).




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.


  1. kath presdee says

    I’m sure there’s a Wikipedia entry but my memories of the names of Cronulla’s home ground (on Captain Cook Drive only) is Endeavour field, Ronson field, Shark Park, Caltex Field, Toyota Park, Remondis Stadium, and now Southern Cross Group Stadium.

    I just call it Endeavour.

  2. Hi Kath, Endeavour is a classic name for it, glad that’s still in use. There was a newspaper cartoon poking fun at the multiple sponsorships around 10 years ago – have been several additions since then. Full list from that Wikipedia page:

    Endeavour Field, Ronson Oval, Caltex Field, Shark Park, Toyota Park, Toyota Stadium, LG Park, Sharks Stadium, Remondis Stadium, Southern Cross Group Stadium.

    So just your usual 10 names, then. Love how they’ve tried to make it sound progressively more stadium-y over the years, despite ground capacity remaining level at 22 000 for at least the last 20 years

  3. G’day Paul,

    Always good to read some League content.

    I’ve only come to appreciate NRL in the last 5-10 years via working for a Sydney radio station.

    I enjoyed seeing Shark Park (see what I did???) full, although I know that was probably due to the local rivalry, the Sharks opening home game for 2016 and some outstanding Shire weather in the day. Like Etihad, Skilled, ANZ, AAMI Stadiums, the powers that be can name it whatever they like, I’m one of those that sticks with Docklands, Kardinia Park, Homebush, Footy Park and so on, but yeah, the dollar signs overtook thinking about the negative connotations of Southern Cross Stadium in The Shire, of all places.

    After watching them against the Storm last week, the first 10 minutes had me thinking that the Dragons were going to have a good afternoon of it, but how wrong was I in the end?

    James Moloney is going to be a huge addition for the Sharks this year. Great converter, but a super smart five-eight and if Ben Barba can regain some of that crazy Bulldogs form at Full-Back, who knows what could happen this year. Good luck.

  4. Cheers! And yeah – so long as nobody actually calls it Southern Cross Group Stadium or calls them the Caltex Socceroos, we’ve still got (figurative) ownership of the names.

    I was equally perplexed by how the Dragons capitulated after a solid start – someone else posted a comment they appear to have since deleted, saying it was the poorest use of a one-man advantage via sin bin they could remember. Have to agree. Already the Maloney / Townsend combination looks promising; been a while since we’ve had a high class playmaker who doesn’t regularly throw mad intercept passes of the kind Carney was prone to. I’m right into having Barba at fullback, too. Thanks :)

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