St George Illawarra showed they deserve to be considered the real deal and NRL premiership contenders after clinically dismantling Cronulla 42-6 at Jubilee Oval on Sunday.
The Dragons jumped into top spot after putting on their best attacking display of the year against an error-riddled Sharks side.
In front of an 18,011 strong crowd at Kogarah, the Dragons’ halves of Benji Marshall and man of the match Gareth Widdop were outstanding while Josh Dugan looked dangerous almost every time he touched the football backing up four days after State of Origin I.
Coming into the round the Dragons had averaged the second fewest points and fewest tries in the competition and questions remained about their attacking nous.
They have this season entrenched themselves in the top four on the back of a steely defensive resolve, conceding less than 12 points per game.
However the Dragons also proved they were capable of big points in ripping apart the Sharks as they posted six tries to one.
It lead coach Paul McGregor to observe they were showing the qualities of a premiership side.
“I’m happy to win a game by one point to be honest,” he said.
“We’re a team that enjoys the defensive side of it and I think if you look back in the history of competitions, especially over the last decade, it’s won on defence.
“If you want to be around at the end of year, which is our focus, from round one, you’ve got to be good in your ‘D’, it’s got to start early.
“We’ll continue to worry about our ‘D’ before our attack.”
The Sharks were terrible in large patches, committing fundamental errors including kicking dead from the kick-off twice, Ben Barba throwing a wild pass on his own goal line and Michael Ennis giving away a penalty after failing to make 10 metres from the drop out.
Cronulla managed one try, however replays showed Valentine Holmes actually failed to ground the ball.
The Dragons went into halftime with a 14-6 lead after Dugan and Mitch Rein crossed.
Rein darted out of dummy half to score, showing why he was being considered for a NSW jumper should Blues hooker Robbie Farah not recover in time for Origin II.
It was all one-way traffic in the second half as Widdop and Marshall grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck with the home side running in tries to Will Matthews, Jack de Belin, Peter Mata’utia and Eto Nabuli.
Marquee signing Barba had yet another poor showing at fullback and Sharks coach Shane Flanagan would not commit to sticking with him in the No.1 jumper.
Flanagan said he was at a loss to explain his team’s performance and was looking forward to getting back Paul Gallen, Sosaia Feki, Ricky Leutele and Chris Heighington next week.
“I got a sore neck looking down one end of the field that whole game,” Flanagan said.