The Dragons remain undefeated in 2018, after a Matt Dufty double inspired the Red V to a comprehensive 40-20 victory over bitter rivals Cronulla in tonight's local derby at WIN Stadium in Wollongong.
After twice receiving the ball from a standing start, the electric Dragons number 1 showed remarkable acceleration off the mark to scorch the Sharks defence leaving multiple defenders in his wake, as he led the Dragons to their sixth straight victory for 2018.
With NSW Coach Brad Fittler commentating sideline for Channel 9, the new Blues coach got the best seat in the house to view some of his Blues aspirants up close, with forwards Jack De Belin and Paul Vaughan both scoring tries, as well as centre Euan Aitken, who again put his hand up for a spot in the Blues backline with another strong performance in both attack and defence.
After Souths hooker Damien Cook threw down the gauntlet for the Blues hooker position in last night's match, Dragons hooker Cameron McInnes returned fire, scoring a decisive try just short of halftime, showing a clean set of heels to race 30 metres from dummy half and then having a hand in another try with some clever dummy half play in the second half in a great performace by the former Rabbitoh.
The Sharks endured an absolute horror night with injury, with skipper Paul Gallen going down with a suspected medial ligament injury, trying to put in a kick on the third tackle early in the first half, which saw the NSW Origin great leave the field for the night.
This was followed by representative forwards Andrew Fifita and Wade Graham who also joined their skipper on the sidelines, with a lower leg and shoulder injury respectively. The absence of the Sharks star trio made the second half almost impossible to stage a comeback, with just one interchange player available for the rest of the game.
The Dragons came into the local derby heavy favourites after winning their opening five matches but Cronulla were physical from the outset, with former NSW prop Andrew Fifita setting the tone for the match after taking it to opposite number James Graham in the early exchanges.
Fifita was a bit over enthusiastic early however, when he collected Graham high and Gareth Widdop took the gift penalty to put the Dragons ahead after a just a minute.
The early exchanges continued in intensity, with both sets of forwards ripping into each other much to the crowd's delight. The Sharks looked to have got the first try when former Raiders winger Edrick Lee looked to have scored thanks to a no look offload from Fifita, however replays showed that the Tongan international had knocked on in the lead up and the try was rightfully disallowed.
From the next set however, Dragons fullback Dufty skipped across field off a nothing pass and then hit the accelerator, exploding past Sharks five-eighth Trent Hodkinson and centre Ricky Leutele to race 30m to score a brilliant individual try and the Dragons led 6-0.
Drama then struck on both sides in a matter of minutes, when Sharks skipper Paul Gallen went down and was ruled out for the match in a huge blow for the visitors. This was followed up by NSW Origin aspirant and Dragons hooker Cameron McInnes being sent to the Sin Bin for knocking the ball away from former team mate Josh Dugan, putting his side under pressure.
The Sharks took advantage straight away, when Fifita bulldozed his way to the line and then delivered a beautiful offload for his hooker Jayden Brailey to even up the scoreboard.
Cronulla's discipline let them down again however, when they conceded back to back penalties despite the one man advantage and Gareth Widdop gleefully took an age off the clock with the penalty, putting the Dragons in front 8-6 after 23 minutes.
Cronulla finally made the extra man count, when Edrick Lee touched down in the corner to regain the lead by 10-8 after Chad Townsend missed the conversion from the sideline.
The Sharks ill discipline then again cost them territory, when back to back penalties gave Widdop the chance to further extend the lead by a further four points, with back to back penalty goals to extend the lead by 14-10 just before halftime.
Dragons hooker McInnes then turned the match on its head, making a mends for his earlier Sin Binning, when he ducked under a defender and streaked away to score a superb solo try to give his side a six point lead at the break.
The second half went from bad to worse for the Sharks, when after a barnstorming first half, Fifita, joined his skipper on the sidelines. The night then went completely off the rails, when Dragons fullback Dufty bagged his second try for the night, which was quickly followed by prop Paul Vaughan crashing over after some clever play from McInnes at dummy half and the Dragons were away at 28-10 with half an hour remaining.
The Sharks to their credit though refused to yield, hitting back with tries to Josh Dugan and Ricky Leutele, giving the Red V a brief scare. However the Sharks just couldn't hold the Dragons at bay, with late tries to De Belin and Aitken sealing a comprehensive 40-20 win in front of their home fans.
The win sets up a mouth watering clash in Round 7, with the currently undefeated New Zealand Warriors next Friday night in Auckland. The Warriors undefeated record goes on the line against the injury depleted Broncos tomorrow night.
For the Sharks, they will be sweating on scans from their star trio, which may have catastrophic consequences on their season, particularly should Gallen or Fifita see long stints on the sideline. Cronulla now return to Shark Park next Sunday were they will welcome back premiership winning half James Maloney for the first time since his rocky departure from the Shire, when the Sharks host the Panthers.