What were the game changers, the big plays, the points of interest to come from the Sharks v Dragons clash at WIN Stadium on Sunday? Here’s what we thought
1. Moylan return sparks Sharks
Missing since limping off 1300SMILES Stadium in Townsville with a hamstring strain, Matt Moylan has been a frustrated spectator while his teammates have done their best to cover for his absence over the past seven weeks.
Will Kennedy debuted in the number one jersey in Moylan’s place, the youngster having his moments in two games in the top grade in displaying his obvious talent and potential.
Otherwise it was Josh Dugan, known for his hard-charging carries with the football, slotting into fullback and into a position he is very familiar with.
But as capable as the other two might be, Moylan in his return match showed just how much the team can benefit from his special skill set.
Moylan’s comeback sparked the Sharks, he was slick in attack, popping up on both sides of the field, creating Bronson Xerri’s first and third tries and if last passes had gone to hand he might have been credited with four try assists in what was a very encouraging return.
It was a nice start, with fans having plenty to look forward to in the weeks ahead.
2. Selection headaches coming soon
Coaches will say selection headaches can be a good thing, meaning everyone is fit, firing and available.
But do they really mean it?
John Morris has done an admirable job through 11 rounds considering some of the players who have been sidelined with injury so far this year, with his team scoring a vital win in Wollongong in consolidating their place inside the top eight.
As a result of those unavailable, he has presented a number of youngsters with debut jerseys and a collection of somewhat previously unheralded squad members have stood up and produced in a time of need.
We saw what Moylan can do when he was back on deck this week, but further to that where does everyone fit when Shaun Johnson, Wade Graham and Aaron Woods, all three international players of obvious quality, return to the field over the next month or so.
Touch wood, the Sharks enjoy an injury free run and it is a problem Morris has to deal with.
Someone who fans have grown to love over recent weeks might miss out, but it shows the value of a deep roster and we can only look forward to what a full-strength Sharks side might be able to do.
3. The rookies big play
Every coach has a game plan and entrusts his halves and play makers to carry that out to the best of their ability, with Chad Townsend receiving rave reviews through the first third of the season for his direction of the team and week to week consistency.
But as mush as they need to follow the script, the halves also need to play ‘eyes up footy’, to see and play what is in front of them and to take advantage of any opportunities which present.
Which is exactly what occurred with the game-changing play in the game on Sunday.
Spotting open space and a winger up in the line, youngster Kyle Flanagan took the chance to kick early, on the third tackle, sending his outside backs on a foot race with the Dragons cover defence.
While a kick is only as good as its chasers, and plenty of credit goes to Kurt Capewell, for getting to the ball first, then Bronson Xerri for pushing up in support, it was the clever kick that created it as the Sharks took a lead they would hold until the final siren.
It was a head-up play from Flanagan, who drew praise from his coach in the post-match press conference, in setting the Sharks on course for victory.
4. Hoodoo? What hoodoo
Over the last 30 years, only two victories have come the way of the Sharks at WIN Stadium, the most recent and the only triumph since 1990 coming in 2013 when Andrew Fifita scored a freakish try on the full-time siren.
Whatever way you wanted to spin it, whether or not WIN Stadium qualifies as a 'hoodoo' ground for the Sharks, fact is they have had very little joy in matches played in Wollongong, and that dates back to when the Illawarra Steelers and not the Dragons were the home team.
The Sharks lost both games against their local rivals in 2018, one of those coming at WIN, with their recent and long-time record suggesting a tough night was on the cards.
And yes, it was a hard-fought victory, but it must be said the Sharks were in control for much of the second half, after a first 40 where they weathered the storm, defended stoutly and gave themselves a chance to come home over the top of their opponents.
Does this mean the hoodoo is over? Maybe. While the win may not have wiped away 30 years of misery, Sunday’s 22-9 victory was a nice start.
5. Morris selection a just reward
A social media video which went viral, showing the playing group celebrating with Josh Morris upon hearing news of his selection in the NSW Origin squad, said a couple of things about both the Sharks team and the contribution Morris has made in just a short space of time.
A new recruit ahead of the 2019 season, Morris arrived for pre-season training before many of his new teammates, the main reason being 2018 team the Bulldogs had finished their season some three weeks ahead of the Sharks. Hence the high profile and more experienced Sharks had a couple of extra weeks to rest and recuperate.
Morris trained with the up and comers, the youngsters pushing for contracts, the rookies dreaming of NRL debuts, imparting his extensive rugby league knowledge on the group while leading the way during those tough summer training sessions.
The season kicked off with Morris on the left side, watching fellow internationals and Origins stars go down with injury, still giving his all on a weekly basis and at the same time trying to instill belief and confidence in the young guns being called into the NRL team.
Becoming increasingly familiar in his new surroundings, Morris has improved with each outing, a man-of-the-match performance during Magic Round in Brisbane maybe putting the thought in the head of Blues coach Brad Fittler that maybe he still had something to give in the Origin arena.
Then came the news of Morris’s selection for game one and the Sharks celebrations on Sunday night would follow.
It showed the respect his Sharks teammates have for Morris, despite the fact he has only been around the club for a short period of time, but it also displayed a united dressing room, one only too happy to celebrate the individual achievements of one of their own.