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Sharks finals move divides, Tigers' last 'insult': Good, bad and ugly of NRL round 27

The NRL's decision to host Cronulla and the Roosters at Shark Park has left fans and commentators divided.

Cronulla Sharks and Wests Tigers in the NRL.
Cronulla will play their NRL finals game at Shark Park, while the Wests Tigers copped a humiliating final blow. Image: Getty

😃 The good: Cronulla finals game staying at Shark Park

😔 The bad: Dragons' dismal finish to 2023 season

😡 The ugly: Wests Tigers sink to embarrassing new low

Cronulla fans get their wish as finals game stays at Shark Park

The Great Wall of China was built quicker than the Shark Park redevelopment (seriously, why has it taken so long?) but the ground's reduced capacity or perceived shortcomings doesn’t mean Cronulla should miss out on hosting a final. And especially when giving up hosting duties would probably have meant a trip to Allianz Stadium, which just happens to be the home ground of the team they’re playing in week one – the Roosters.

If you're going to change the rules on week one hosting duties, do it in February, not September. The Sharks, like the other teams playing home finals, have worked their backsides off to earn the right to play this game in the Shire.

Sure, more people could be catered for elsewhere, but that's not Cronulla's concern. You seek any advantage you can at this time of the year and playing at home, in front of their noisy and passionate fan base, is a huge leg up.

Shark Park, pictured here under construction during an NRL game.
Cronulla will host the Roosters in the NRL finals, despite Shark Park still being under construction. (Photo by Jeremy Ng/Getty Images)

As for atmosphere, who can get forget the scenes 12 months ago when a heaving Shark Park played witness to a classic golden point encounter between the locals and North Queensland. The joint will be rocking again on Saturday night and that's got to be a good thing for rugby league.

Not that everyone agrees. Penrith great Greg Alexander is not alone when he says the game should be played at a neutral venue.

"The rules should change. You have to go somewhere that holds more than 12,000 people," he argued. "You can’t have one part of (the ground) under construction. Sorry Cronulla people, I'm taking it out to CommBank."

Brad Fittler, who you could say has a vested interest in this, added: "Are we going to get 10,000 at Shark Park (rather than) take it to Allianz? It’s a neutral venue, Allianz."

Shane Flanagan facing huge troubles at Dragons

Shane Flanagan showed he was a man for a challenge when he took Cronulla from a basket case to a premiership inside a few short years. That transformation from perennial losers to winners took a lot of panel beating, but it looks nothing compared to the monstrous task Flanno faces at St George Illawarra.

The Dragons signed off on another season of disappointment with a meek 32-12 loss to Newcastle at Kogarah on Saturday night. The Knights already had a home elimination spot sewn up and rested a number of players to ensure they'd be fresh for when the real business starts.

Moses Suli, pictured here after the Dragons' loss to Newcastle.
Moses Suli looks on after the Dragons' loss to Newcastle. (Photo by Brett Hemmings/Getty Images)

Despite 11 spots separating the teams on the ladder, many gave the Red V a big chance of causing a boilover before tending to Mad Monday commitments. Instead, their fans were treated to more of the same as mistakes, poor option taking and a lack of discipline ended any threat of an upset.

Newcastle was in cruise control for much of the contest, coasting to a ninth consecutive win. St George Illawarra fans can comfort themselves with one thought: It could have been 50 had Kalyn Ponga played.

Their team finished the year with five wins, just one spot above the wooden spooners. Dragons skipper Ben Hunt admitted many of his teammates are still learning what the NRL is all about, hinting they were a long way off matriculation. Flanagan craved a return to the head coaching hot seat, but this Saints' chair is habanero hot.

Wests Tigers cops brutal 'insult' from Sea Eagles

The dramas at the Bulldogs camouflaged, to some extent, the dreadful end to another dreadful season at the Wests Tigers. The Tigers were utterly pathetic in going down to Manly on Friday night, conceding a try in the opening minute and keeping the defensive door open for the rest of the game.

The Sea Eagles did it that easily they were handing the ball over to teammates so they could join the try-scorers' list. That's embarrassing and insulting when it happens in under-13s, let alone the NRL.

Reads 'NRL Finals 2023' with the cut out images of three players throwing a football - Cameron Munster, Nathan Cleary and Reece Walsh, with a backdrop of a football stadium.
Discover more of our NRL Finals coverage.

It's 12 years now since the Tigers last made the play-offs and back-to-back wooden spoons indicates there is no upward trend coming. Fans staged a protest at 4 Pines Park on Friday night, erecting a "End the Pascoe Fiasco" banner on the hill while circulating a flyer imploring "fellow believers" to protest at the seventh minute to "express our disgust at Pascoe's performance over the past seven years."

The Tigers insist they won’t be bullied and Pascoe is going nowhere. But you have to wonder how long the CEO can last. He may be a good operator in off-field areas, but he's also overseen a long period of on-field mediocrity and would be out the door in most other businesses.

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