St George Illawarra have become the first team in five years to go unbeaten through the opening six rounds of a season, adding insult to Cronulla’s horror Friday the 13th in Wollongong.
The Sharks’ 40-20 loss to their local rivals was only one concern, with Andrew Fifita and Paul Gallen sweating on knee scans on Saturday ahead of potentially lengthy stints on the sidelines.
There is particular concern over Fifita, who had his left knee in a brace amd was on crutches, sparking fears he may have damaged his anterior cruciate ligament putting his season in doubt.
Wade Graham (hamstring) and Luke Lewis (knee) will join the pair for scans after minor injuries, cutting through their star-studded forward pack and leaving them with an empty bench by fulltime.
Against the odds Cronulla fought back from a 28-10 deficit before giving the Dragons an almighty scare when Josh Dugan was denied a try that could have brought them back within two.
But when Jack de Belin and Euan Aitken crossed late for the Dragons, the Sharks were consigned to their fourth loss in six games.
“If you lose four senior players it’s going to drain your depth, but we just need to take stock and take a deep breath,” Sharks coach Shane Flanagan said.
“I’m not happy with the way we’re playing.
“Our backs are against the walls now and we’re going to have to turn up and win some footy games real quickly.”
Young fullback Matt Dufty and hooker Cameron McInnes were sensational for a Dragons attack that continues to fire, while Gareth Widdop also booted four penalty goals.
It marks the first time since Melbourne in 2013 that a team has gone through the opening six rounds undefeated.
The Warriors have a chance to join them on 12 points on Saturday when they take on Brisbane in Auckland before the NRL’s form sides meet next week.
They will need to find a way to stop the fleet-footed Dufty, who stepped his away across for two tries – including the Dragons’ opener where he used excellent footwork across both sides of the field before finding a gap.
McInnes also scored from a long-range effort when he went 50 metres from dummy-half, after he had earlier been sin-binned for a professional foul.
“We were a little off to start the game in terms of our intent in our defence, but when we needed to find it we did,” Dragons coach Paul McGregor said.
“And some individual brilliance probably got us over the line tonight more than team talent.”
There was plenty to like about the Sharks in attack, after Flanagan made Matt Moylan his full-time fullback during the week and Trent Hodkinson his No.6. Hodkinson set up two tries in the loss, while Dugan and Valentine Holmes’ combination on the right edge looked dangerous after the NSW centre set up a four-pointer for his winger with a slick offload.