Full Time
6:15pm Sun March 14, 2021
Round 1 - Netstrata Jubilee Stadium, Carlton - Crowd: 7636

Round 1: Dragons v Sharks preview

Long-time rivals look to start 2021 on the front foot

Leaving much to be desired with their respective showings in 2020, the St George lllawarra Dragons and the Cronulla Sharks will close out the opening round with a grudge match at Netstrata Jubilee Stadium.

Coming into the new year with outsider Anthony Griffin taking over the reigns from club icons Paul McGregor and Dean Young, the St George Illawarra Dragons will be desperate to atone for a dispiriting 12th placed finish.

Appointing the former Brisbane and Penrith mentor following just three top eighth finishes in the decade since their historic 2010 grand final victory, the Dragons' management will be hoping Griffin's standing as a man with no existing ties to the club can restore the Red V to former glory.

Showing signs of concern following trial losses to Cronulla (28-36), Parramatta (6-28) and a humiliating Charity Shield performance against South Sydney (16-48), the joint venture will need to overturn history having won eight out of 22 opening round fixtures since merging on the eve of the new millennium.

Managing one win from their past four clashes with the Sharks, the joint venture has underperformed at Kogarah with a 36 per cent success rate over the past two years.

Naming new signings Jack Bird, Andrew McCullough, Poasa Fa'amusili and Daniel Alvaro in the squad, Adam Clune has been handed the number six jersey with Corey Norman serving a one-match suspension.

Qualifying for the finals without defeating a top eight side last year, the Cronulla Sharks will be looking to improve upon their 8th placed result.

Bowing out in the first week of the play-offs in his first two years as coach, John Morris will need early wins to gain an extension as rumours circulate Shane Flanagan could return to the club once his suspension expires.

Showing signs of promise in the pre-season with a youthful win over St George Illawarra (36-28) and a narrow loss to Canterbury-Bankstown (12-16), the Sharks hold a horrendous Round 1 record with one win over the past decade.

Fielding a largely stable line up with all bar one player remaining from last season, Matt Moylan will start in place of Shaun Johnson (achilles) at five-eighth, while veteran front-rower Aiden Tolman will make his club debut off the bench.

Sunday evening marks the fourth time the Dragons and Sharks have met in the opening round; the Sharks hold a slender 2-1 advantage.

Last meeting: Round 11 2020 - Sharks 28 Dragons 24

Who to watch: Enduring a wretched run with injury over the past three years, new recruit Jack Bird will be hoping for a change in fortune ahead of his senior debut for the Dragons. Making just 17 out of a possible 70 appearances in his three years with the Broncos, the former rookie of the year winner remains a player with immense talent having won a premiership and representing NSW within two years of debuting in first grade. Named in the centres, but capable of making an impact as a fullback, five-eighth or edge forward, a fit-and-firing Bird may prove to be one of the buys of the year.

Named on the bench for Cronulla after being linked with a move to St George Illawarra over the off-season, skilful forward Billy Magoulias will be out to seize his opportunity of becoming a regular first-grader in 2021. Playing five matches under John Morris over the previous two seasons, the 24-year-old Greek international has garnered a following in the lower grades after pulling off two audacious chip kicks to steer Newtown to Canterbury Cup NSW and State Championship titles in back-to-back weeks. Offering a point of difference with his skillset to most forwards, look for Magoulias to press his claims for a new deal with a strong showing on Sunday evening.

The favourite: Winning 10 of 12 clashes against teams that finished below them on the ladder last year, the Sharks are expected to continue that trend on Sunday evening.

My tip: While neither side displayed premiership-winning form throughout the pre-season, the more settled squad fielded by John Morris should see the Sharks sit inside the top eight at the end of the round. Sharks by 14.