No-frills halfback Chad Townsend showed why Cronulla wanted to bring him home when he played a leading hand in his side’s 30-2 NRL thrashing of St George Illawarra on Sunday.
Townsend helped turned the game approaching halftime as he set up a Valentine Holmes try before scoring himself to sink the Dragons, who endured a horror day at Shark Park with star centre Josh Dugan suffering a hamstring strain.
A 25-year-old Sharks junior, Townsend was targeted by coach Shane Flanagan during his off-season recruitment drive and succeeded in luring him back after a two-year stint at the Warriors.
While he doesn’t enjoy the same profile as halves partner James Maloney, he foreshadowed he could prove an astute purchase after leading the Sharks around the park with aplomb.
After Ben Barba displayed shades of his Dally M Medal-winning form to open the scoring in the 33rd minute, Townsend put in a grubber which rebounded off Dragons No.6 Gareth Widdop and back into his grasp before toeing it ahead for Holmes to score.
He then did it all himself on the stroke of halftime, kicking and regathering on the Dragons’ line to score and open up an 18-2 lead at the break.
From there, the Dragons never recovered as they delivered an inept performance, making an unforgivable 18 handling errors and completing just 18 of 33 sets.
Despite his side piling on five tries to none, Flanagan said he was still unsatisfied – lamenting four missed opportunities and predicting significant improvement from his spine of Maloney, Townsend, Barba and hooker Michael Ennis.
“I thought James’ game, to be honest, was a little bit off,” Flanagan said.
“He came up with a few errors with the football – dropped a couple of passes and his timing was a little bit out.
“But that’s the area we’ll improve. Everyone else is on the same page at the moment but their communication, it’s going to get better in the weeks to come.”
After the break, tries to Jason Bukuya (67th minute) and Ricky Leutele (71st) then sealed the win in front of a boisterous 17,946-string crowd.
The Dragons looked woeful in attack and even earned criticism from Flanagan who said he expected the visitors to fire a few more shots.
Dugan is only expected to miss one week but will undergo scans on Monday.
Kurt Mann, who pushed Dugan from fullback to centre in the first two rounds, had a forgettable day by making four handling errors.
“You can’t polish your attack when you don’t control the footy, cause you’re under fatigue with two less interchanges,” Dragons coach Paul McGregor said.
“And if you turn the ball over continuously, you’ve just got no chance. Defensively I thought we were off, compared to what our standard is.”