Sharks hold off Dragons in Flanagan’s return, stay top

George Clarke |

Nicho Hynes has inspired Cronulla to a 10-point win over the spirited Dragons.
Nicho Hynes has inspired Cronulla to a 10-point win over the spirited Dragons.

Shane Flanagan has branded his St George Illawarra side “awful” after his return to Shark Park ended in a 20-10 defeat that kept Cronulla on top of the NRL ladder.

Coaching against Cronulla for the first time since being ousted from the club in 2018, Flanagan returned to PointsBet Stadium on Sunday desperately hoping his Dragons side could find some of the grit that made his premiership-winning Sharks outfit so feared and revered.

The Red V’s form has been inconsistent all season and a trip to face their nearest rivals came a week on from their humiliating 60-18 Anzac Day loss to the Sydney Roosters.

Although the Dragons kept themselves in the contest, Flanagan was left fuming at his side’s lack of discipline.

“We were just awful, never completed our sets, never got to our kick and when we did, we didn’t nail them down in the corner,” Flanagan said.

“It was a frustrating game, we didn’t give ourselves a chance because of the errors we made.

“We were in there for most of it but some of the errors and self-inflicted penalties…We just can’t do that.”

A late try from Tom Hazleton pulled the Sharks out of the Dragons’ reach as Cronulla secured an eighth-straight win in the fixture.

Hazelton
Tom Hazelton crashed over to score a crucial late try for the Sharks. (HANDOUT/NRL PHOTOS)

It keeps Craig Fitzgibbon’s men locked into first spot ahead of a mouth-watering trip to face second-placed Melbourne, although the Sharks coach was keen to pump the brakes on his side’s fast start to 2024.

“What is it? Round 9? Assessing where we’re at… there’s so much that can happen between now and the end of the year but we’re pretty consistent at the moment,” Fitzgibbon said.

Cronulla looked to be cruising towards another straightforward win when Oregon Kaufusi crashed over after 13 minutes.

But, clearly stinging from last week’s big loss to the Roosters, the Dragons hit back through Mikaele Ravalawa.

The Fijian winger doubled his try haul on the stroke of halftime after some sustained pressure on the Sharks’ line.

Ravalawa
Mikaele Ravalawa scores one of his two tries for the Dragons. (HANDOUT/NRL PHOTOS)

“In the back end of that first half, the amount of six-agains and penalties – it’s defence, defence, defence,” Fitzgibbon said.

“You can hold your gloves up for long enough and then the dam breaks and they score and it can rock you.

“But I was pleased with the way we came out of that.”

Leading 10-6 at the interval, the Dragons’ hopes of pulling away from the Sharks were dampened as the wind picked up and Nicho Hynes began to work his magic.

The Cronulla halfback sent Siosifa Talakai rampaging over the top of Ben Hunt to give the Sharks a 12-10 lead before the game fell into a grinding battle of attrition.

A break from Sione Katoa was the impetus for things to open up in the final quarter of an hour.

Hynes held the ball on the very next play, drawing an on-rushing Hunt out of the line which allowed him to send a towering Hazelton crashing over to wrap up a gritty Sharks win.

AAP