Iconic rivalries in the NRL – St George Illawarra Dragons v Cronulla Sharks

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In the fourth of a new series, Last Word on Rugby looks at iconic rivalries in the NRL.

When did it start?

Cronulla were formed in 1967 when the New South Wales Rugby Football League added them, as well as Penrith Panthers to the competition, the first new teams to be admitted in 20 years. 

On the other hand, the Dragons were not created until 1998 in a merger between the St George Dragons and Illawarra Steelers.

Despite this, the Sharks were referred to as St George’s ‘little brother’ as they were part of the Dragons junior area. 

Their first meeting came in a year after the Illawarra Dragons’ formation with the Sharks edging to an 18-16 victory. 

Overall the sides have faced off 46 times with the Dragons winning 23 matches to Cronulla’s 21 with just one draw, in 2001.  

Both sides have four match winning streaks against each other with the Sharks coming between 2007 and 2008 with St George matching them in the four meetings immediately after in 2009 to 2010. 

Cronulla’s biggest victory is 40-4 in 2007 while the Dragons triumphed 38-0 in 2010. 

Both sides have finished higher than the other six times apiece.

The rivalry gained traction when the Cronulla CEO infamously cut up a St George Jersey after a match at Toyota Stadium. During the Super League war, Cronulla-Sutherland was one of only 3 Sydney teams to join the rival competition, (Both the St George Dragons and the Illawarra Steelers were loyal to the ARL during the Super League War).

Notable Matches

An early clash between the pair was one of the most memorable when they met in the 1999 preliminary final. 

Cronulla had claimed the minor premiership and had beaten the Dragons in their first two ever encounters. 

It seemed to be going with form as the Sharks led 8-0 at half-time but collapsed in spectacular fashion after the break. 

An Anthony Mundine hat-trick helped the Dragons to a surprise 24-8 victory, ensuring they became the first joint-venture club to reach the Grand Final. 

In 2005, the two met in the preliminary final with St George winning 28-22, in a closer match than many expected given St George had finished second and the Sharks seventh. 

Trailing 12-4 early in the second-half, a strong comeback gave the Dragons a 10 point lead with Colin Best crossing for his second and Dean Young and Trent Barett also scoring. 

The Sharks hit back through Nigel Vagana only for Wes Naiqama to race away and make it 28-18 to St George and despite Paul Gallen’s late try, they held on. 

Players to play for both

Trent Barrett was a legend in the red vee, starting his career with the Illawarra Steelers, scoring 30 tries in 45 games before their merger in 1999.

He joined the newly formed club and played 154 matches until 2006 during which he won the Dally M Medal in 2000 and played in their 1999 Grand Final defeat to Melbourne. 

After a year in the Super League with Wigan Warriors, Barrett returned to Australia but for rivals Cronulla, making 36 appearances as they finished 15th. 

Following four seasons at the Storm, Jeremy Smith moved to St George in 2009 for a year, playing 30 matches as they won the 2010 Grand Final, their first premiership. 

During that season, it was announced that Smith moved to Cronulla for the following season where he made 43 appearances as the Sharks finished 13th. 

History and Records


St George have only won one premiership, in 2010 and have claimed two minor premierships (2009, 2010).

The Dragons have never been awarded the Wooden Spoon.

Their biggest victory is 54-0 against the New Zealand Warriors in 2000 with their heaviest defeat 10-70 against Melbourne Storm in the same year. 

Their longest winning streak is nine matches, between March 2011 and May 2011 with their worst losing run being six games from July 2013 to 2 September 2013. 

St George’s all-time appearance holder is Ben Hornby with 273 games with Matt Cooper holding the record for tries with 124 in 243 games. 

Trent Barrett is the only player to have won the Dally M Medal with in 2000 for St George. 


The Sharks have also claimed one premiership in 2016 along with two minor premierships in 1988 and 1999. 

However, they have claimed the Wooden Spoon in 1967, 1979 and 2014. 

Their biggest win is 62-0 against Newcastle Knights in 2016 with their heaviest loss coming in 2003, losing 74-4 at Parramatta. 

Cronulla rank in the top five of most consecutive wins in the NRL with 15 between March 2016 and July 2016 while their longest losing run is 13, from Round 16, 2009 to Round 3 2010. 

The top try-scorer for Cronulla is Andrew Ettingshausen, who scored 148 tries with Paul Gallen playing a club-record 348 matches for the Sharks between 2001 and 2019. 

Steve Rodgers in 1981, Gavin Miller in 1988 and 1989 and Preston Campbell in 2001 are the only players to have won the Dally M Medal while at the club. 


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