Sharks players drew on the lesson learned in a wet-weather loss to Parramatta last season to down St George Illawarra 32-18 and get their premiership campaign off to a winning start for the first time since 2013.
Cronulla coach John Morris was still playing the last time the club achieved a round-one win but the Sharks raced to an early 12-0 lead and overcame the sin-binning of centre Jesse Ramien before finishing too strong for a gutsy Dragons outfit at Netstrata Jubilee Stadium on Sunday evening.
The kicking game of halfback Chad Townsend was the key and afterwards Morris revealed that his team had spoken about last year’s 14-12 loss to the Eels in similar conditions after scoring three tries to two.
"We played here last year against the Eels in torrential rain and we took some lessons out of that," Morris said.
Match: Dragons v Sharks
Round 1 -
Venue: Netstrata Jubilee Stadium, Sydney
"We spoke about that game because we knew it was going to those sort of conditions today and our boys were tuned into how we wanted to complete our sets. It was only when we went away from that it actually hurt us.
"I think it is a good reward for a lot of effort that has gone in over the pre-season. We have certainly raised the bar with a few of the things we did getting ready for the year and I was confident coming here. We started really fast and I thought we won the game early getting off to that 14-0 scoreline."
The Sharks completed their first 16 sets and did not make an error until the 32nd minute.
Get Caught Up: Round 1
In comparison, the Dragons committed 15 errors and a second half fightback fell short after the Bunker over-ruled a try to winger Cody Ramsey.
Cronulla drew equal with the Dragons for the number of wins between the two clubs with Townsend having a hand in two of their five tries and maintaining pressure on the Dragons with repeated grubbers into their in-goal or high kicks that forced errors or earned the Sharks repeat sets.
He also landed six goals from as many attempts.
The Sharks playmaker, who has had to take on most of his team’s kicking duties in the absence of injured five-eighth Shaun Johnson, kicked the ball for 515 metres from 15 kicks as the visitors dominated field position in a fiery local derby at Netstrata Jubilee Stadium.
"He played strong and kicked six from six, which was super impressive," Morris said of Townsend. "He has worked hard on his goal kicking over the pre-season and nailed a real good kick from the sideline to go up by 14 [points]."
The win was Cronulla’s 23rd in 47 matches against St George Illawarra since the formation of the joint venture in 1999, with the Dragons winning 23 and one game being drawn.
NRL Round-Up - Round 1
St George Illawarra’s premiership campaign could hardly have got off to a worse start when former Dragons star Josh Dugan swooped on an arcing grubber kick by Townsend that was fumbled by Matt Dufty and Ben Hunt failed to clear in just the fourth minute.
It was a tactic the Sharks repeated in the wet conditions and one which came up trumps for them again 10 minutes later when second-rower Tariq Sims was unable to field a Will Kennedy grubber and the Cronulla fullback regathered to score.
Townsend’s sideline conversion have the Sharks an early 12-0 lead but Cronulla had to withstand the loss of Ramien for 10 minutes midway through the first half after a swinging arm on Dufty.
Ramien sent to the sin bin for high contact on Dufty
The tackle dislodged the ball from Dufty’s grasp and forced the Dragons fullback from the field for a HIA but despite the one-man advantage the home team were unable to breach Cronulla’s defence.
Instead, the Sharks extended their lead via 23rd minute penalty goal.
The Dragons completed just 13 of their 18 sets of possession in the first half and produced seven errors but their defence was arguably better than it had been in their 44-16 Charity Shield loss to South Sydney two weeks earlier.
St George Illawarra got back in the contest after Kennedy allowed a bomb by Hunt to bounce and the ball landed in the welcome arms of Clune, who managed to find his way in the 48th minute.
Dufty then brought the Red V fans among the 7636 crowd to their feet six minutes later when he split the defence on the last play and evaded four attempted tackles in a scintillating 50-metre run to the line to put St George Illawarra within two points of the Sharks lead
The Dragons then appeared to have hit the front when centre Jack Bird knocked the ball loose from Sione Katoa after the Cronulla winger fielded a Hunt bomb and Ramsey picked it up and forced his way over.
However, the Bunker ruled Bird had knocked the ball on and St George suffered a double blow when Ramsey was forced from the field with an ankle injury while stretching out for the disallowed try.
Cronulla immediately took advantage after five-eighth Matt Moylan regathered the ball from a Townsend kick in the middle of the field and kicked for an unmarked Ronaldo Mulitalo to score in the 62nd minute.
Dufty tears the Sharks open up the middle
Kennedy then pushed Cronulla’s lead back out to 14 points three minutes later when he finished a slick blind-side movement from a scrum win after Dufty had knocked on a towering Townsend bomb.
Bird was denied a try when he was held up over the line before Fijian winger Mikaele Ravalawa picked up a cross field kick from Hunt and planted the ball in the corner in the 74th minute.
However, a 78th-minute try by former Test prop Aaron Woods sealed the 32-18 win for the Sharks.