NRL Round 23 – St George v Cronulla: Stuck Inside of Kogarah with the Derby Blues Again

St. George Illawarra Dragons 32 Cronulla Sharks 18

7:30 pm, Saturday August 13th

Kogarah Oval, Sydney

Paul Macadam

 

At no point this year have St. George looked capable of what they did on Saturday night. Only once scored more than 20 points, and even then went down to Souths. Classic them; garbage for five months, snapping out of it just in time for us. I’d be taking the loss better if these Saints were a side to file under “On Their Day”; one you must watch out for in case they flick a switch. But they’re not even that. Bastards.

 

I’m on the train to their turf by 6:20. (My travelling-to-match routine is similar to my travelling-to-gig routine, in that I don’t see the point in arriving any more than an hour before the headline act). Everyone’s smiling, as you only can when near the top of the ladder with no upper limit on possibilities. All the lads on carriage N5180 are belting out “True Blue”, “Down Under”, and, more eccentrically, the club song of the Newtown Jets. I don’t know these people – and would maybe wish I didn’t if I did – but it’s a brilliant moment. What a night. I can sense it. What a night this could be. We alight at Carlton Draught station, and march down Jubilee Avenue.

 

Though I’m normally a bag of nerves in the hours before this fixture, there’s little anxiety in me this time. “49 years and won f*** all”, says a banner being red-ragged right in front of us. The general response is one that I won’t quote here due to the use of *****, ****** and ******* *******, but I’m in too good a mood to join the hostilities. 1970s Dragon Steve Edge is being interviewed by the official club hype man. Nobody can hear what either is saying. Whispers spread across our end about Gallen crocking a calf muscle in the warm-up. That’ll teach me to be optimistic. I’ve really got to start keeping a closer eye on these warm-ups. At home to Newcastle, I only realised Maloney was out five minutes before the match. Alright. Now I’m nervous.

 

From the opening whistle, the Dragons spread it wide. Making plan B their plan A. The pet theory of some commentators that you can score too early is a load of rubbish, but you can score too easily. Dazzling football has seldom been a St. George Illawarra specialty (I know, not like we can talk), and it shows when a reckless pass is plucked out the air by Holmes, who can hardly believe his luck. Six-nil on the hill. Six-nil on the hill. But once the improvised plays gather cohesion, Cronulla are under serious pressure. Grubber kicks dribble dead, we can’t buy a penalty, and Saints always have another off-load in them. I thought Paul McGregor was having a laugh when he said his side would win the forwards battle. Nope. Theirs are all over ours. A Marshall kick finds Aitken, who scores. The Dragons’ compact defensive line has Cronulla struggling for territory but now there’s an overlap on the left, it goes through both the halves and out to Feki and he’s off, finding Barba on his outside, and Ben runs the rest of the way. Maloney’s kick bounces out off the post. Just like his field goal attempt on the Gold Coast did. Those were bouncing in a month or two ago. Our first penalty of the night is conveniently ten out, right in front, moments before the break. 12-6. One try was gifted, the other chanced upon from long range. We’re fortunate to lead.

 

Not sure what that second half was all about. I had to go back further to make any sense of it. The four consecutive wins where Cronulla recovered from conceding the first try showed a resilient spirit not often witnessed since our last serious premiership challenge in 2008. Yet there’s evidence that this is a team too easily rattled by provocation and misfortune. Put the combustible temperaments of Gallen, Ennis and Fifita into one forward pack, and you run the risk of being derailed by contentious refereeing decisions, or perfectly legal attempts to get under their skin. Though not indispensable as he once was, the captain’s absence is still painfully felt whenever he isn’t fit. On Saturday I saw few signs of anyone having said let’s just settle down, regroup, wrap up the ball without any nonsense, and have a quiet set or two. Instead I saw seventeen players appear to lose their heads simultaneously from minutes 50 to 60. By the time they were screwed back on, we’d gone from 12-6 up to 24-12 down. It could be unfair to single guys out, but for the second time in five weeks, a try followed from Beale dropping a regulation kick.

 

Finally, a rally. Barba’s looping pass finds Leutele unmarked in the corner. Yes. Yeeeeeeeeeeeesssssssssssssss. A roar; one containing as much needle as joy. The derby roar. Middle fingers and rainbow language all over the shop. Let’s get these, Sharks. Run them down and reverse back over them for good measure. Still loads of time left. If Maloney could just land this conversion. Come on Jimmy. He pauses. They jeer with venom. He moves into the strike. It’s wide. Though another pen closes the deficit to six, we don’t really come close to scoring again.

 

There are four directions in which Cronulla’s season could go from here. Three of them involve black and blue heartbreak. Two of them I could just about stomach. One is everything you’ve ever wanted. The other is unthinkable. To reach week 2 of September after 2014’s turmoil was a stirring achievement. To crash out at the same stage again would be enormously disappointing. The blunt – and mildly pathetic – truth is that I enjoyed last season more than I have this one, so far. Cronulla are historically most comfortable as underdogs, and if it’s true that supporters embody the character of their teams, it’d explain why most of our games in 2016 have felt like grand finals.

 

I stay til full-time and beyond purely to deny Saints fans across the hill the satisfaction of singing nananaaaana nananaaaana heeeeeey goodbyyeee, but they do anyway. I shuffle to the exits in a daze. Craving something sugary. “SORRY NO DONUTS LEFT”, says a hastily scrawled note at the concourse cafe. Make a metaphor for the night out of that if you wish. I’m shattered. Can’t recall feeling worse walking out of a ground that wasn’t Shark Park. While I trudge along the avenue, two Dragons fans initiate what I’m sure will be some absolutely. Spicy. Sizzling. Bantz. Jesus. Christ.

 

“How many premierships, Sharkies? How many premierships?”

A pause while I establish that yes, I’m definitely the one they’re asking, and no, they’re not planning to thump me.

“One. We’ll be level with St. George Illawarra when we win one“.

Proud of that line, actually. Might use it again when called for. I’m not hostile. Nor are they. I’m too dejected and they’re too gleeful for anything heated to happen.

“Better not choke, ay? Choke… choke… choke…”

“Book your holidays for September, mate”, I mumble in monotone.

“49 years and what? And WHAT??”

There’s nothing I can say in return. That’s the call there’s no coming back from. Until the day… until the day.

 

St George Illawarra Dragons 32 (Tariq Sims 2, Euan Aitken, Mitch Rein, Gareth Widdop tries; Gareth Widdop 6 goals) defeated Cronulla Sharks 18 (Valentine Holmes, Ben Barba, Ricky Leutele tries; James Maloney 3 goals) Crowd: 13,167.

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.

Comments

  1. David Conallin says:

    and a Dylan fan to boot so its not all bad!

  2. andy frame says:

    To paraphrase 1 Corinthians 15.55 – ‘O (defence), where is thy sting?’
    A little too much shirt grabbing going on these last couple of weeks Paul. Perfectly illustrated by letting our smug, know-it-all neighbours put 30 points on us.
    I mentioned a few weeks ago whether we needed a loss to refocus our efforts. Momentum can be a hard thing to turn around. Time for Flanno to earn his chips now.
    Cos’ it will all be worth it, come the day. That day.

  3. Haha – cheers, David!

    Andy: Yeah agreed – 41 missed tackles on the weekend. I’m concerned by how thoroughly both Canberra and St. George’s packs overpowered ours. Got a nine day gap before the Souths game, which should do them the world of good. That camp in Gosford they’re currently on will hopefully have a rejuvenating effect, too. If it’s any consolation, of the current top 6 I’d say only Canberra are playing convincing football.

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