Marching in: Dragons lift shield and league
Glenn Jackson and Brad WalterSeptember 6, 2010
Dragons dispose of spirited Souths
Matt Prior carries the ball. Photo: Chris Lane
A SELL-OUT crowd at Kogarah last night helped the NRL establish a new season attendance record for the second consecutive year.
The 18,274 crowd at Jubilee Oval to see St George Illawarra presented with the JJ Giltinan Shield for winning the minor premiership took the overall attendance record during the regular season to 3,151,039, an increase on last year's record of 3,081,874.
It is the fourth year crowds at NRL matches have exceeded more than three million fans, and the second successive year the rugby league attendance record has been broken.
"What an exciting finish to the regular season,'' NRL chief executive David Gallop said. ''Once again it came down to the final match, and it's a fitting way to launch into a Telstra premiership finals series that promises to be as enthralling and unpredictable as the race for the top eight has been.
"I would like to thank the players, the clubs and officials for providing an unforgettable 2010 regular season and to our record number of club members and our fans who have supported their teams throughout one of the closest competitions in recent memory.''
For the second straight season, Gallop presented the prize for winning the minor premiership to the Dragons after their win over Souths.
"Congratulations to the Dragons for winning the minor premiership, and may I wish them and our seven other finalists all the best in the race to the grand final,'' Gallop said.
So who said St George Illawarra were chokers? Manly didn't have to hold their collective breath for long, with the Dragons carving up Souths quickly at Kogarah. But the Sea Eagles had some nervous moments.
So battered and bruised - and confused - had Manly players been after their defeat by the Bulldogs yesterday, they could not even bring themselves to discuss the ramifications of the result. With players being stitched up, strapped up and iced all through the Sea Eagles dressing room, and with their progression through to the finals still up in the air, Manly official Peter Peters said the players would not be in a position to talk about their fate. ''We're going to a praying session,'' he joked.
As it turned out, the Sea Eagles survived - after a nervous 3½-hour wait during which they had to rely on St George Illawarra beating Souths to qualify for the finals. But whether they can progress any further is the question - the fact their defeat left them facing the Dragons, the minor premiers, the most glaring issue facing them but certainly not the only one.
After having looked like title contenders midway through the season, the Sea Eagles have slid since. Not as alarmingly as, say, Brisbane, but they are in eighth position because they have lost six of their past 10 matches.
''A lot of sides have been like that,'' said their coach Des Hasler. ''There's been a lot of inconsistency, right across the board. Sides have been beating each other left, right and centre. St George Illawarra have probably been the only consistent side. But it doesn't matter about any of them. We had a job to do today, and we didn't do it.''
Despite the fact they finished with six players injured, three on report and in eighth position, Hasler maintained the tide could turn next week.
''The semi-finals are a totally different game,'' he said. ''We'll have a good week to work at it. We'd never ever think we're not a chance.''