It wasn't that long ago that the Dragons trophy cabinet was bulging with every piece of silverware available to them. For now, they will gladly settle for the inaugural Monty Porter Cup after a 25-12 win at Sharks Stadium on Saturday night – St George Illawarra's first win of the season.
The Sharks' loss, in front of 20,130 people, was compounded for the home side when Todd Carney hobbled off the field towards the end of the first half with a foot injury after being wedged in between Dragons defenders after taking on the defensive line.
The injury, separate to the Achilles he tore last year, is not expected to keep the NSW State of Origin half out of action for an extended period, but the swelling was so severe he was unable to put his boot on, ending any chance of returning to the field.
The Dragons opened the scoring with some great work from Trent Merrin. Merrin has spent the first part of matches watching on from the sidelines this season. But the lock vindicated coach Steve Price's decision to thrust him into the starting side with his footwork and ball skills handing the Dragons their first points. Charging into the Sharks' pack in the middle of the field, Merrin, with his hands popped free, offloaded a ball that hit the back of Cronulla prop Andrew Fifita only for Nathan Fien to pick up the ball and score after 11 minutes.
The Dragons went back-to-back against the run of play five minutes later when Jamie Soward swooped on a loose pass from Cronulla back-rower Luke Lewis to outsprint Beau Ryan and Todd Carney for an 80-metre try. He added the two points to give the Dragons a 12-0 lead.
And it was the Dragons who should have scored more points before the half-time break.
First it was Matt Cooper to be denied after he was held up on the final tackle as St George Illawarra continued to march up the field.
The away side had another chance to score when a set move resulted in Soward switch-kicking from left to right only for winger Jason Nightingale to spill the contested bomb.
With Carney off the field, Cronulla capitalised on back-to-back sets to score their first points of the game through Jeff Robson, who scored off his own grubber kick.
When Soward couldn't clean up the ball, Sharks' centre Ben Pomeroy patted the ball backwards just before it went dead. Robson then beat teammate Ryan to the ball to see the scores 12-6 at the break.
Again, it was a free-flowing, attacking Dragons who started the second half.
They opened the scoring with an acrobatic Nightingale leapfrogging across the try-line after some great lead-up work from his inside men. Tyson Frizell, against his former club, laid on a nice offload to fullback Gerard Beale, who produced a nice deft pass of his own for Nightingale to race into the corner opening up a 12-point lead.
Just as the Dragons looked in control, Cronulla hit back seven minutes later when a barnstorming Fifita continued his run of good form, benefiting from a poor defensive read from Dragons forwards Mitch Rein and Matt Prior that helped him score near the posts from a well-timed John Morris dummy-half pass.
When Nightingale crossed for his second try in the 64th minute, the match was out of Cronulla's reach.
Soward completed his 13-point haul with a field goal to give the Dragons their first win at Sharks Stadium since 2010.
ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA 25 (J Nightingale 2 N Fien J Soward tries J Soward 4 goals J Soward field goal) bt CRONULLA 12 (A Fifita J Robson tries M Gordon 2 goals) at Sharks Stadium. Referee: Phil Haines, Ashley Klein. Crowd: 20,130.