A return to Benji Marshall’s attacking brilliance may be the catalyst for Josh Dugan’s recall into the NSW line up after the pair combined to help lead St George Illawarra to an impressive 30-0 win against Cronulla on Saturday night.
Dugan scored three tries at centre with Marshall laying all three on.
In just his second game since switching from fullback, Dugan did more than enough to impress NSW coach Laurie Daley and put his hand up to play in either the vacant wing or centre spots for the Blues.
The might of the Maroons would be a tougher task for Dugan, but he could provide the Blues with another attacking weapon. While Dugan’s form would’ve brought a smile to Daley’s face, it was the performance of Marshall which set the tone for St George Illawarra in front of 12,079 people at WIN Stadium.
In his third game for the club since returning from rugby union, Marshall was back to his fleet-footed attacking best, running freely to have a hand in five of St George Illawarra’s six tries and securing a line drop out against a hapless Cronulla side. The side-step, jink and no look passes all returned.
To add further despair to a Cronulla side missing 13 genuine first graders including Paul Gallen, Luke Lewis, Andrew Fifita and Todd Carney, it was Marshall who rejected them before opting to make his comeback to the NRL with the Dragons. .
By half-time the Dragons had scored more points than they had in their past 240 minutes of first grade. It was also the first time they had held a team scoreless since round 8, 2011, to give Paul McGregor his first win as a head coach.
The match couldn’t have started any worse for Cronulla, spilling their opening two touches with Daniel Holdsworth dropping the ball from the kick-off. Debutant Jacob Gagan also lost his first touch in the NRL, when he fumbled a contested bomb.
St George Illawarra took advantage of Cronulla’s early woes, with Peter Mata’utia scoring in the 14th minute. He capitalised on Marshall changing direction when he ran on the last tackle to open up some space for Adam Quinlan, who threw a classy cut-out pass for Mata’utia to score.
Marshall would again feature, laying on Dugan’s first try after he charged onto a ball with an angled run after 22 minutes. The two would combine 11 minutes later, with Marshall throwing a trademark no-look pass to hit the lead runner in Dugan, who proved too strong to stop to extend St George Illawarra’s lead to 14.
Marshall and the Dragons weren’t done with yet. While the No.7 spent the bulk of the first half camped on the right hand side, he produced points on the left. Marshall dummied and then threw a long pass which created space for Gerard Beale to score off a bouncing Gareth Widdop pass to give the Dragons an 18-0 half-time lead.
The Dragons took time to warm into the second half, before Marshall and Dugan again joined forces. While Marshall’s feet may have dazzled the Cronulla defence in the first half, it was his boot which laid on Dugan’s try, who was able to climb above the Cronulla defence to snatch a cross-field bomb to extend the Dragons lead midway through the second half. Beale scored his second when Widdop regathered his own grubber before passing to the centre to close out the match for the home side.
The last-placed Sharks will have a host of their stars back after next week’s bye while an in-form Jamie Soward awaits St George Illawarra on Saturday.