Dragons v Sharks
WIN Jubilee Oval
TRENT Barrett… upwards of 20,000 fans at the Dragons’ revamped WIN Jubilee base at Kogarah… and they’re all screaming the star five-eighth’s name.Sound familiar? Of course – but this time around the majority of the Kogarah fans will be baying for Barrett’s blood because after eight seasons and 199 games in the Red V (and the past two at Wigan) he’ll be turning out for the first game against his former club in “enemy” colours.
The Dragons under Wayne Bennett have appeared one of the more solid starters in 2009; they lost a cliff-hanger to the Storm in golden point before a business-like performance against the Titans in Wollongong got them the competition points last week.
The only change to their line-up is that Brett Morris, not used against the Titans, makes way for Mat Head on the bench.
The Sharks, however, have their woes.
Misi Taulapapa has been named on the wing but his appearance depends on successfully beating a head slam charge at the judiciary Wednesday night.
Cronulla’s firepower and attack remain stunted due to the long-term loss of prop Ben Ross and fullback Brett Kearney. This was hammered home on Monday night when they struggled to assert themselves against an under-strength Knights outfit at Toyota Stadium, relinquishing an early 6-0 lead to fall 24-12.
Before that they ground out a largely unimpressive 18-10 win over the Panthers – who are struggling at the bottom of the ladder.
Interesting sidelines are that Wendell Sailor plays his 200th NRL game, while the Sharks step out for their 1000th game. And still no premiership…
Watch out Dragons: Despite two seasons away from the faster pace of the NRL Barrett has shown he’s lost none of his guile or speed. He’s scored two tries, including a beauty to regather his own bomb against the Knights, has a line-break assist – and should have a try assist to his credit but for the disallowed Taulapapa try.
Most importantly he’s shown his trademark play of running to the line, sucking in defenders, is as effective as ever.
Barrett will employ this tactic at every opportunity around the Dragons’ red zone (from 30 metres out), hoping to find out any tired defenders who don’t come up in a line. If they don’t, it will open space to pop balls to fringe runners like Paul Gallen and Anthony Tupou. But even if covered, the extra attention still opens up opportunities off his boot, with grubbers into the in-goal.
Watch out Sharks: The Dragons are on the charge. They’ve made more metres than any side (2821) and have five players who are averaging more than 100 a game, with ex-Raider Michael Weyman leading the way in the NRL with 339.
They say he’s too slow but that hasn’t stopped Wendell Sailor from clawing his way to No.3 with 325 metres (plus two line breaks), while Ben Creagh (sixth with 279 metres) looks set for the season of his career to date. And at the back, Darius Boyd has 13 tackle breaks.
Where it will be won: Kicks and kick-chase will be huge factors. Jamie Soward has punted 17 long kicks for the Dragons, helping them to gain more territory off the boot than any other club (averaging 774 metres a game). Barrett has kicked long on 10 occasions to get the Sharks into second place in the category with 611 metres a game.
But both players need to up their percentages when kicking to open space – Soward has kicked straight to the opposition 65 per cent of the time, Barrett 70 per cent. They’re pretty poor averages, even for this early stage of the season. If they continue this week it could be the Dragons who benefit, with a rampant back three ready to cart the ball back with determination – and with a vocal crowd at their backs.
While Barrett’s class is undeniable, Soward is proving to be a magician at creating tries with kicks in the No.6 for St George Illawarra, with Neville Costigan and Jason Nightingale cleaning up from his cross-field kicks last week.
The History: Played 22; Sharks 13, Dragons 8, drawn 1. The Sharks hold a commanding 5-3 domination over the past eight meetings – and have won the past four straight including a 40-4 mauling in 2007, their biggest ever win over the joint-venture club.
Conclusion: While the Dragons haven’t set the world on fire or employed their traditional razzle-dazzle play of past years, it’s obvious the players are sticking to a Wayne Bennett coaching strength: make the hard yards, keep the flashy offloads to a minimum (only 10 last week and seven against the Storm) and build pressure.
If you’re a Sharks fan, you’d be pretty worried heading into this. Cronulla underperformed against the Knights and now they have to take on the Dragons with a short turnaround, in front of a bumper crowd who’ll be giving the Sharks’ major playmaker more lip than Angelina Jolie has after a Botox session.
Last year the Sharks’ defence was watertight but they were struggling to score tries. Now the Sharks’ defence looks like someone has taken to it with a pitchfork, while their attack is still struggling.
It should be a no-brainer for the home side.
Match officials: Referees – Gavin Badger & Tony De Las Heras; Sideline Officials – Steve Chiddy & Russell Turner; Video Ref – Tim Mander.
Televised: Channel Nine – Delayed 4pm (AEDT); Fox Sports – Delayed 6pm.
* Statistics: NRL Stats.
Important note from the NRL - Dragons v Sharks Ticket Update
Fans looking to attend the Dragons v Sharks match at WIN Jubilee Oval, Kogarah this Sunday are encouraged to pre-purchase their tickets to avoid queuing and the prospect of missing out.
Tickets are selling fast for this historic return to WIN Jubilee Oval Kogarah match, the traditional local derby.
Category 1 and 2 seating is sold out; there are still limited tickets available for purchase into Category 3 reserved seating. In addition, there are less than 5000 General Admission Tickets remaining for sale.
All NRL Junior Pass holders are advised that entry via these passes is subject to venue capacity being available. All pass holders should consider pre-purchasing tickets to avoid disappointment on the day.