No Cronulla players understand the club’s rivalry with St George Illawarra more than Chad Townsend and Jayden Brailey.
The local juniors, who make up half of the Sharks’ new look spine, will be out for revenge against the Dragons after Cronulla were beaten 32-18 in the last meeting between the fierce local rivals at Kogarah in round 23 last season.
Brailey has impressed since replacing the retired Michael Ennis at hooker with the 20-year-old Holden Cup player of the year not looking out of place since stepping up to the top grade, even scoring his first NRL try in Cronulla’s thrashing of Canberra last weekend.
And Townsend, a Yarrawarrah Tigers junior, is excited for his young teammate and Aquinas Colts junior Brailey to experience the cauldron of a Sharks-Dragons derby for the first time on Sunday – in just Brailey’s third NRL game.
“I’m looking forward to it. I can’t wait, actually. I’m probably excited more for Brails. It’s obviously his first derby,” he said.
“If you were brought up around this area you were either a Dragons fan or a Sharks fan.
“These games are definitely one to remember. I don’t know if I hate the Dragons but it’s an unbelievable feeling to beat them. Playing in that game against them early on [in round two last season], my first game back at home after being away, is something that I’ll really cherish. Playing in front of that full house and the way we played.”
There is something in the home ground advantage between the Dragons and Sharks with the home side winning the last five derbies between the clubs, including the Sharks 30-2 thrashing of the Dragons in their first meeting last season.
Cronulla built a formidable home record last season, turning Southern Cross Group stadium into a fortress in winning 11 from 12 of their home games on their way to winning their maiden premiership.
The Sharks lost their opening match at home to Brisbane and Townsend said the team was keen to make amends.
“Whether we’re playing at St George or at our home there’s always a big crowd. I think the home ground advantage definitely adds a little bit. Probably having more fans there and more passionate fans,” he said.
“Any time we come up against the Dragons form goes out the window because of the rivalry we have.
“For us we loving playing at home in front of our fans. It helps us get over the line. I’m sure the Dragons are the same. I definitely think that playing at home is an advantage.
“I think it’ll be won or lost in the forwards. St George won their first game just on the back of playing tough. Their forward pack really dominated Penrith and on the weekend [against Parramatta] I thought it was the opposite way. They let Parramatta get over the top of them in the middle and for us [against Canberra] our forward pack did an extremely good job in laying a platform for us to get some structure and play some footy and score some points.”