St George Illawarra have maintained their unbeaten start to the season, winning a pulsating derby 40-20 over Cronulla on Friday night.
The Dragons now have six wins from their opening six matches to stay top of the NRL table with electric young fullback Matt Dufty providing the spark in the 20-point victory.
Cronulla were brave in defeat. They lost captain Paul Gallen inside the opening 15 minutes to a suspected medial ligament strain in his knee. Andrew Fifita was forced off just before half-time with a knee problem having been at his explosive best, a one-man wrecking ball.
Wade Graham came off just after half-time with a quadriceps injury before Luke Lewis left the field in the final 10 minutes after a clash of knees.
Cronulla’s lack of discipline came back to haunt them again, giving away a number of penalties within kicking distance. Dragons captain Gareth Widdop took full advantage kicking four penalty goals, including one in the second minute to open the scoring.
But it was Cronulla who looked to have scored the first try completely against the run. A Fifita offload ended up with Edrick Lee touching down in the corner, only for the video referee to chalk off the try for a Fifita knock on.
The Dragons would make them pay, going straight down the other end for Dufty to produce his first moment of magic. The diminutive No.1 received the ball 40 metres from Cronulla’s try line and probed the defensive line to the left, before wheeling around and sprinting across to the right side where he isolated Trent Hodkinson before slicing through to score in the corner.
The Sharks then lost Gallen as he went to put in a grubber kick into the in-goal area, only for Paul Vaughan to tackle him in the process, awkwardly catching his right leg.
Gallen wouldn’t return but the Sharks got a leg up when Cameron McInnes was sent to the sin bin after 15 minutes. Josh Dugan earned a penalty after making a half break, forcing McInnes to tackle Dugan when he attempted a quick tap.
The Sharks took full advantage moments later when Fifita produced an offload for young hooker Jayden Brailey to score under the posts.
A Widdop penalty goal reestablished St George Illawarra’s lead midway through the half before the Sharks hit the front two minutes later when Lee touched down in the corner.
A pair of Widdop penalties put the Dragons back in front before McInnes scored the hosts’ second try, producing a similar effort to Dufty’s as he broke through down the right and raced 35 metres to score to give the Dragons a 16-10 half-time lead.
Dufty broke the game wide open four minutes after the break. He punched through a hole in the Sharks’ line, accelerating from a standing start before putting a lovely move on Moylan to touch down.
Vaughan crashed over three minutes later to give the Dragons a 28-10 lead before the Sharks hit back after 53 minutes with Dugan providing a superb flick pass for Valentine Holmes.
Cronulla were in again five minutes later with Hodkinson’s pin point cut out pass finding Ricky Leutele. The Sharks could have been even closer shortly after when Holmes appeared to touch down in the corner, only for the video referee to find a knock on from the winger.
Cronulla continued to hang tough until Jack de Belin sealed the result with a solo effort 15 minutes from full-time. Euan Aitken added some gloss to the final score with a try inside the final 10 minutes.
St George illawarra Dragons 40 (Matt Dufty two, Cameron McInnes, Paul Vaughan, Jack de Belin, Euan Aitken tries. Gareth Widdop eight goals)
Cronulla Sharks 20 (Jayden Brailey, Edrick Lee, Valentine Holmes, Ricky Leutele tries. Chad Townsend two goals)
at WIN Stadium, Wollongong
Leader man of the match: Gareth Widdop (Dragons)
Dragons’ next three: Warriors (away), Roosters (home – Allianz Stadium), Storm (home – Jubilee Oval)
Sharks’ next three: Panthers (home), Titans (away), Eels (home)