IN 1981 Newtown and Canterbury played out rugby league’s only ever 0-0 draw. It’s hard to imagine it was a worse spectacle than this snooze-fest at the revamped WIN Jubilee Oval.
A heaving crowd turned out to see a hard-fought derby… and were hard-fought to stay awake. It was a boring, defence-oriented grind of a game between two teams determined not to make mistakes but who made them anyway.
The Dragons lost Matt Cooper in the 16th minute and hence lost a big attacking weapon, a player in short supply in this match. And so they shut up shop, relying on Jamie Soward’s kicking to get them down the other end, and… that was about it.
Similarly the Sharks seemed determined to play “safe” rugby league and eliminate mistakes. And then made them anyway. So they played conservatively and badly. Didn’t score a point in the first half and scored one try through a kick in the second.
The Game Swung When… In the 50th minute Trent Barrett went off on a stretcher and was given a standing ovation by fans who’d been calling him a word rhyming with super tanker all game. And with Barrett went the Sharks’ best player and their only one who looked likely to score a try.
Who Was Hot… Though his attacking kicks didn’t pressure opponents sufficiently – and the chasers can put their hands up for that also – Jamie Soward’s tactical kicking was spot-on and kept the Sharks pinned for long periods in their own half.
Michael Weyman made some good inroads (18 runs, 152 metres), Darius Boyd made good inroads from fullback and looked nimble on his pins (although way too crabby at times) while Brett Morris made two long-range runs.
The Dragons’ best though were second-rowers Ben Creagh (16 runs, 117 metres, 16 tackles) and Matt Prior (14 runs, 104 metres, 38 tackles).
For the Sharks, Paul Gallen offloaded three times, showing he’s probably the best in the game at getting them away in the tackle, while Anthony Tupou offloaded four times and made a powerhouse run, beating seven defenders before spilling the ball as he fell to ground.
But Luke Douglas (16 runs, 130 metres, 40 tackles) was their best player by a fair margin.
Who Was Not… Just about everybody else. The Sharks’ ball security was despicable. And given they have three creative players – Barrett, Tupou and Gallen – in their 17-man squad, this does not make their play conducive to scoring tries.
Last year they finished third on the ladder and scored the least amount of tries of any team. They have a new No.7 in Blake Green and perhaps he needs time to settle in. But it’s as if Ricky Stuart is reining in his team’s natural abilities. It’s like they play hamstrung.
And Luke Covell played like the ball was covered in very slippery scorpion poison. Probably his worst ever game in the blue-white-and-black.
Had To Be Seen To Be Believed… It wasn’t a shock to see Kogarah full but it was certainly pleasurable.
The fans packed Kogarah like cult worshippers and brought with them the atmosphere sadly lacking at your Olympic-sized mega-domes. And though millions were spent on the grandstands, thousands elected to stand on the hill. The same thing happens when the Tigers play at Leichhardt and every time the Eagles play at Brookvale. This is not rocket science: afternoon footy at purpose-built, preferably suburban rugby league grounds creates big-match atmosphere. And rugby league is the winner.
Oh, also: Luke Priddis struck for the ball in the scrum. Yep. Luke Priddis struck for the ball in the scrum.
Injuries… Matt Cooper – hamstring; Trent Barrett – neck. Both injuries will be monitored.
Bad Boys… None.
Ref Watch… Tony De Las Heras made a tough call on Jeremy Smith for slowing the ball down. The attacking player wasn’t impeded. Smith was stiff. As was Brian Norrie for the Sharks when Gavin Badger called him for the same thing on Matt Prior, who backed into him and milked it like an udder.
Otherwise they did pretty well, the refs.
Paul Gallen and Brian Norrie both collected Jarrod Saffy around the neck and though Saffy was stunned, the refs called play-on. There was nothing in it. Good call.
NRL.com Best & Fairest… 3 points – Ben Creagh (Dragons): Seemed the player most likely to bend the line and score – and so it proved when he did. Should have scored three; 2 points – Luke Douglas (Sharks): Big game from an unsung prop; 1 point – Matt Prior (Dragons): A mountain of work from a back-rower without much meat on him.
Dragons 10 (B Hornby, B Creagh tries; J Soward goal) def Sharks 6 (D Simmons try; L Covell goal) at WIN Jubilee Oval. Crowd: 20,847.