The Cronulla Sharks have defeated fierce local rivals the St George Illawarra Dragons 18-14 in what has been a classic local derby at UOW Jubilee Oval.
Both sides traded blows early on in the match with plenty of feeling in both attack and defence.
The Sharks would be the first side to be awarded a penalty on the night when Jack Bird was upended by a strong Dragons tackle.
The Sharks worked the ball deep into the Dragons end, with Townsend receiving the ball on the 10m line. He ran to the line and played a short ball to a lurking Jack Bird however the Blues utility was not able to hold the ball and the Dragons would be back in possession.
Bird would again be in the thick of the action when he was penalised for holding Tim Lafai down in the tackle after the Dragons worked deep into Sharks territory.
Luke Lewis would then give the Dragons a shot at the line when he was penalised for laying in the ruck too long. The home side was unable to capitalise on the quality field possession and the Sharks would again have the ball.
The Sharks would work the ball up field and the match was in need of an experienced head to stand up. James Maloney took it upon himself when he ran to the line, spotted that the Dragons were without a fullback and put the ball onto the toe.
The kick forced a drop out and the Dragons would be forced into making a drop out.
The Sharks would pile the pressure on the Dragons line however that final pass would not go to hand as Luke Lewis was not able to hold a Maloney short ball and the Dragons were back with it.
The sides would continue to trade blows with big hits and bit metres from both sides, not resulting in points for either side.
It would be however the home side to hit the scoreboard first following Matt Prior being penalised for a shoulder charge on Joel Thompson. Tim Lafai would convert the the penalty from 20m out and the Dragons would lead 4-0 after 21 minutes.
It didn’t take long for the Sharks to hit back though as Valentine Holmes broke the Dragons line, beating three Dragons players only to be brought down metres from the line by Jason Nightingale.
Jayden Brailey went to the short side and found Holmes who moved the ball onto Ricky Leutele who would score one of the easier tries of his career. Maloney converted from the sideline and the Sharks lead 6-2 after 25 minutes.
Not to be outdone, the home side hit back two minutes after when Paul Vaughan crashed over from close range. Tim Lafai converted the simple conversion and the Dragons went into the lead 8-6.
The score would remain the same at the half with both sides hitting the sheds for a well earnt break!
In true derby fashion, both sides continued to attack each other with punishing defence, allowing neither side an even break.
The Dragons though had a great chance to extent their lead when they took off down field, with the ball going through a range of hands before they were brought down metres from the line.
They would work the ball to their right side only for Nene MacDonald to to force the pass and it land in James Maloney’s hands.
From here the Sharks would work the ball up field into good attacking position. Choosing to run the ball on the last tackle, the Sharks went to their left with Leutele piercing through the Dragons defensive line and popping a ball over the top to an open Sosaia Feki who went over for his fifth try of 2017.
Maloney made no mistake with the conversion from the touchline and the Sharks would go into the lead 12-8 after 50 minutes.
It would be the Sharks again who looked to trouble the scorers as we went upstairs for a potential try to Jack Bird. The on field ruling was No Try and this would be the final result with the video referee determining Jack Bird to have knocked the ball on in the play.
As the match began to swing in the Sharks’ favour the home side worked their way deep into attacking position. A rampaging Paul Vaughan would crash onto a short ball close to the line and wrapped up, would force his arm free to find Russell Packer storming through to cross over for the Dragons.
Tim Lafai would convert and the Dragons were back in the lead, 14-12 after 60 minutes.
The game was turning into a stalemate as both sides traded set for set, attacking at will and it would be Chad Townsend who would be the spark the Sharks needed.
Seeing the Dragons were short on the short side, the Sharks half back ran down the edge getting deep into Dragons territory and putting his side on the attack.
Andrew Fifita would seemingly blow the Sharks’ chances as he couldn’t find the pass to his support in attack, knocking the ball forward.
The Sharks were down but not out though as they received the ball again deep in Dragons territory.
With a few quick passes and a ‘Hail Mary’ from Chad Townsend, the ball would eventually land in the hands of Sosaia Feki who would cross over for his second of the night.
James Maloney made no mistake with his conversion and the Shark were ahead 18-14 with eight minutes on the clock.
The final minutes of the derby were as tense as any, with the Sharks defending their line like their lives depended on it.
The Dragons were given one last play, with a scrum deep in their half with six seconds on the clock. McCrone put through a deep kick off the scrum however Holmes was on hand to scoop the ball up and boot the ball deep into touch and secure the Sharks victory.
Cronulla Sharks 18 (Feki (2), Leutele tries, Maloney 3/3 convs.)
St George Illawarra Dragons 14