Five key points: Dragons v Sharks
The Dragons kept their fleeting finals hopes alive for another week while putting a whole heap of pressure on premiership heavyweights Cronulla following the Red V's 32-18 local derby win on Saturday night.
Dragons keep slim finals hopes alive
The Dragons are a fair way out of the top eight on the NRL Telstra Premiership ladder but when there's life, there's hope. St George Illawarra's 14-point win over the Sharks saw them overtake the Sea Eagles into 11th position, just two points out of the eight. A Knights win over the Panthers on Sunday afternoon would sit nicely for coach Paul McGregor considering the Wests Tigers and Warriors' failure to win in Round 23. The Dragons will see out their season with games against clubs sitting on the three lowest rungs on the competition ladder.
"We have to win every game which we're capable of," McGregor said.
"It depends on our roster each week. We get Leeson Ah Mau back next week from a three week suspension which will help.
"We're playing sides all below us in the competition from now on so it's certainly in our hands. We have to keep getting a bit better each week because you never know."
The Josh Dugan effect
Much could be said about Dugan's attacking prowess with the Dragons racking up their highest tally of points in a game this season – his 188 metres and seven tackle breaks against the Sharks dictate that. But the incumbent Kangaroos representative's influence goes beyond stats. His positional play was second-to-none against the Sharks and it didn't go without mention from McGregor.
"Josh is that big body out there who brings the ball back strong and saves tries. He saved three tries in that first half, so defensively he was everything you want," McGregor said.
"He was pulled down a metre short [from scoring] early in the game as well. Positional-wise he was excellent and he carted the ball strong."
Paul Gallen injured before whistle blown
The Sharks' past three games (two losses and a draw) has been the lowlight of their successful season so far. It became far worse for the premiership heavyweights when skipper Paul Gallen injured his calf in the warm up. Gallen's influence almost goes without saying in the shire – he's averaged 172.4 metres and 30.6 tackles this season – and coach Shane Flanagan wasn't prepared to risk any long-term damage.
"Gal suffered a strain to the outside of his calf. He's had a history of them. He had one earlier in the year," Flanagan explained.
"He came into the sheds and was treated, and we probably could've pushed him out there. But we're not going to push him at this stage of the year. He missed three weeks last time so the medical staff made the decision to pull him out."
Marshall bounces back from Broncos shocker
A drama-filled week for Benji Marshall was put to bed after he produced two try assists against the Sharks. The 31-year-old's showing against the Broncos in Round 22 kick-started his problems with five errors and he found himself in the limelight following an apparent blow-up with McGregor at training.
"To come off a game like he did last week, and the pressure he's been under from all sorts of different areas like that, was really good," McGregor said.
Olympic sevens or rugby league?
Did the Australian Rugby Sevens gold medal success at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics inspire the Sharks and Dragons? The first half suggests so. The first 40 represented more an Auckland Nines fixture rather than an NRL one. In the end the two clubs combined for a whopping 31 offloads and eight line breaks. Both teams dabbled in second-phase play for the most part. It worked at times – Ben Barba's 27th minute try capped off an amazing 95-metre play, but it wasn't to be at other points especially earlier on when Dragons makeshift hooker Jake Marketo threw an intercept for Valentine Holmes' 17th try of 2016.