ST GEORGE Illawarra fullback Josh Dugan concedes the Dragons are no longer big brother by default as they prepare for Sunday’s local derby clash with Cronulla at Southern Cross Group Stadium.
The fierce local rivals have met 38 times with the ledger currently at 19-18 in the Dragons favour but Sunday’s showdown will be the first time the sides have met while Cronulla are reigning premiers.
The Dragons have long been the big brother in the rivalry by virtue of its 14 premierships and the famous red v brand but, having missed the finals in four of the last five seasons, many will suggest that tide has turned in favour of the Sharks.
Dugan has played in four derbies for three wins since joining the Dragons and is expecting another tough encounter on Sunday.
“Anyone that’s involved in it through both clubs knows how passionate and how hard a game it is,” Dugan said.
“They’ve got that premiership now and full credit to them for going all the way last year and I think they’ll still be riding high from it.
“We’ve got to turn up on Sunday, we know it’s going to be a tough game and we’ve got to be on our front foot. It’s always a fixture I look forward to and definitely looking forward to Sunday.”
The Sharks have been largely dismissed as contenders in may circles, with some predicting they’ll miss the eight, but Dugan believes they remain formidable.
“They are the reigning premiers and they did a job on Canberra last week who I think are a top four team,’ he said.
“They’ve lost a fair bit of strike in Mick Ennis and Benny Barba so it’s one of those things where it depends how well the other guys step up.
“Losing a guy like Mick Ennis, it’s always a tough thing to do, he’s part of the spine and he’s an experienced player. Their young fella [Jayden Brailey] is going alright at the moment at hooker so we need to be on our game and expect anything.”
Renown United junior Jason Nightingale, who has played in more derbies than any other Dragons player, believes the rivalry is as strong as ever, while cheekily admitting he first experienced it in a Sharks jersey.
“We all grew up watching it and I used to go to those games all the time...sometimes wearing a Sharks jersey,” he said.
“Junior reps happens pretty early so as soon as I played [juniors] for the Dragons as a teenager I’d turn up and obviously support the Dragons and that rivalry is still as strong as ever.
“I think the best part about it is we’re quite often at different ends of the competition table one way or the other and that never matters when it comes to game time. I don’t think form has a lot to do with local derbies and I think that’s part of what’s exciting for us and for the fans.
“I remember some of the times when we were first in the competition, turned up to play the Sharks and they weren’t going to well and get beaten. We did that to them a the back end of last year and I think that’s the exciting thing about it. It’s abut whoever turns up on the day.”