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Heading into round 26 the Cronulla Sharks were assured of finishing in 7th position no matter what the outcome of their home game against South Sydney.
It was David Peachey?s final match at Toyota Park and the club also farewelled injured veteran Jason Stevens, who has a crippling shoulder injury. But the Sharks were dismal in their efforts that night, conceding defeat by 26-22 after opening up an early 12-0 lead.
This disappointing effort will only detract from any momentum they may have when they travel to the unfamiliar surrounds of WIN Stadium this Saturday night to take on St George Illawarra in the first week of the NRL semi finals. It will be the first time the joint venture club meets Cronulla in Wollongong and the first NRL semi final match ever played at WIN Stadium.
By virtue of the merger between St George and Illawarra beginning in season 1999, every home game against the Sharks since then has been played at either Kogarah Oval or Aussie Stadium to maintain the local derby aspect of the often brutal matches. With the two teams meeting only once in 1998 which was a home game for Cronulla, and given the Super League season of 1997, the Sharks have not played at Wollongong since 1996.
That day they went down to Illawarra by 21-14 in front of 8,017 fans with current Dragons lock Shaun Timmins kicking the field goal that sealed the match. Worse still, the last time the Sharks tasted victory at WIN Stadium was in round 7, 1989, when they defeated the scarlet red Steelers by 26-6.
Cronulla faces a huge task this Saturday night against a red-hot Dragons outfit who are gunning to advance to a Grand Final Qualifying match in two week?s time. Stevens has not been named and they have lost impact forward Hutch Maiava as they attempt to be the first team since Melbourne in round 2 to claim victory at WIN Stadium under lights.