CRONULLA-SUTHERLAND went in with a boxed trifecta of fullbacks, but it was the Dragons who found a winner in their number one Matt Dufty at WIN Stadium on Friday night.
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It’s still unclear whether or not he’s on “fullback money” but the Dragons, which includes Gerringong’s Tariq Sims, continue to get bang for their buck out of the 22-year-old, whose scintillating double either side of halftime spurred a 40-20 win.
They proved telling moments in what, a mini second-half revival aside, was a forgettable night for Sharks coach Shane Flanagan, who still can’t find a fullback despite having three on the books.
He could now also be looking for half a forward pack next week after Paul Gallen, Andrew Fifita and Wade Graham failed to finish the match.
Gallen injured medial ligament in his right knee in the 13th minute and left the field without returning while Fifita joined him with a knee injury of his own six minutes before the break.
Graham also twinged a hamstring eight minutes into the second half and finished the game in civvies on he bench.
Despite the injury toll, the Sharks did manage a brief fight back midway through the second half with tries to Valentine Holmes and Ricky Leutele pegging back an 18-point deficit back to just eight with 23 minutes left.
They went close to scoring again moment later, only for replays to show Holmes grazed a loose ball with a fingernail in the lead-up to Josh Dugan claiming a try.
Jack de Belin barged across minutes later, with Euan Aitken crossing to seal the match, and a 6-nil start, for the Dragons 10 minutes from time.
The penalties flew thick and fast in he first half, with the visitors being pinged four times in the opening six minutes alone.
The first-half count ultimately evened out at eight apiece, but Widdop made the Sharks pay on the scoreboard with four penalty goals in the opening stanza.
Widdop’s four penalty goals were complemented by two scintillating solo efforts from Matt Dufty and Cam McInnes, the latter providing a timely reminder of his running abilities seven minutes before halftime.
Dufty crossed for the opening try in the eighth minute, starting 15 metres in from the western touchline before crabbing across the the eastern side and blowing past Hodkinson and Leutele for the opening four-pointer.
McInnes strode through the same channel for his try, brushing off Wade Graham and Kurt Dillon before darting 40 metres to score in the corner.
Ill-discipline also cost the Dragons, with a run of four straight penalties – one resulting in the sin-binning of McInnes in the 14th minute – opening the door for Jaiden Brailey and Edrick Lee to cross in the ensuing 10 minutes.
Lee had got across earlier in the match for what looked like the opening try only for replays to show a fumble from Fifita in the lead-up.
Fifita made up for the error, laying on Brailey’s try with a one-handed off-load before leaving the field.
Dufty had his second two minutes after the resumption, again creating something from nothing on a weaving 30-metre run to the line, with Paul Vaughan crossing five minutes later to extend the lead to 28-10.
The cue looked very much in the rack when the Sharks scored twice in five minutes, through Holmes and Leutele, but the resistance proved brief.
De Belin carried four defenders across to re-take momentum in the 63rd minute before Aitken’s 70th minute effort sealed the victory.
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