Jason Nightingale believes Cronulla are no longer St George Illawarra’s little brothers.
St George Illawarra host their fierce local rivals at UOW Jubilee Oval, Kogarah looking to get back on track after their impressive start to the season was halted by back to back defeats against the Sydney Roosters and Melbourne.
The Dragons’ round three derby victory over Cronulla helped kick start their season and they will be out to do the double over the Sharks on Friday night. St George Illawarra downed Cronulla 16-10 at Shark Park with a gritty performance where they outlasted the reigning premiers.
For years St George Illawarra have held superiority over their neighbours from south of the Captain Cook Bridge but Dragons winger Nightingale, a veteran of 19 derby clashes, told the Leader things had changed since the Sharks’ maiden title last season.
“I don’t know if they are little brother at the moment. It’s hard to call them little brother when they’re the premiers,” he said.
“I live in Cronulla as well. It’s a week where people around the area treat you a bit differently. You have to understand the rivalry and the competitiveness. The fans definitely add to the expectations and the rivalry which adds to the atmosphere.”
Nightingale understands the rivalry better than most. A St George junior with Renown United, the New Zealand international has grown up with it.
It’s hard to call them little brother when they’re the premiers.Jason Nightingale
It will be a tougher assignment for the Dragons this time around without captain Gareth Widdop (knee) and star fullback Josh Dugan (cheekbone) through injury.
Nightingale said it only took playing in one Dragons-Sharks derby for it to mean as much to players as it does the fans.
“It’s like your first Charity Shield or Anzac Day game. Before you play those games it’s hard to understand,” he said.
“There are plenty of local juniors in our team who pass stories on and our coaching staff are involved a lot.
“I grew up as a St George junior after I came across from New Zealand and played all my junior footy in the St George district. I grew up with it and witnessed it many times before I got to play in one.”
St George Illawarra have an outstanding recent record at Kogarah, winning eight of their last nine matches against all opposition. Conversely, Kogarah has been a graveyard for the Sharks, losing seven of their last eight visits.