SHARKS 12 DRAGONS 0
Shut down ... Ben Creagh of the Dragons tackles Sharks prop Ben Ross last night at Toyota Stadium. Photo: Getty Images
Todd Carney looked good in a sky blue jersey last night. Really good.
And now he reckons he's ready to wear that other one.
Cheeky lad ... Sharks fullback Nathan Gardner tries an unconventional method to get out of a tackle from Dragons prop Michael Weyman. Photo: Getty Images
''Definitely want to be there,'' he said of his NSW Origin aspirations. ''I've wanted to be there since I started first grade at Canberra at 18. There's been opportunities where I could have been but I definitely want to be there. Am I ready? I feel I am.
''I'll put my hand up to definitely give it a crack … it's something I want to do. It would be a big tick for me and a pat on the back for me. But there's a lot of blokes putting their hand up.''
One of those blokes is Jamie Soward. The incumbent he outplayed in last night's local derby. Ricky Stuart would have watched this one with interest. With Paul Gallen marshalling the forwards and Carney the backs, Cronulla did something they haven't done for four years - earned a top-four spot after knocking off big brother. And how. For the first time since 1973, the Dragons didn't bother the score attendant in the local derby.
Blues battle ... Todd Carney of the Sharks runs towards State of Origin rival Jamie Soward. Photo: Getty Images
Bragging rights and competition points weren't the only things up for grabs. There were at least half a dozen Blues hopefuls on show but Carney's stocks rose the highest. His kicking game was precise - he threw in a 40-20 for good measure - took on the line and the former Rooster dove onto a loose ball in the final frantic minutes. It was an Origin play.
That he was playing against Soward, whose side enjoyed more possession, spoke volumes.
Until now, Carney has distanced himself from Origin talk. ''But there has got to be a time when you do have to answer the question and put yourself out there and say if you're ready - and I feel I am,'' he said.
And if Mitchell Pearce retains the Blues No.7 jersey, it will be a Roosters reunion of sorts. Two playmakers who know how to play with each other. ''If that comes around and we do play together, that would be nice. He's a good mate of mine,'' Carney offered.
It all appears to be ''Up, Up, Cronulla!''. The Sharks have signed a gun playmaker, a new sponsor and, barring any last-minute hitches, a long-term coach they believe can take them to a place they have never been before.
A crowd of 21,380, the first time the full-house sign had been raised in seven seasons, witnessed a wonderful defensive display. ''They were brave, they were courageous. I couldn't rap them enough,'' coach Shane Flanagan said.
All up, St George Illawarra had 21 plays inside the opposition red zone. They left with nothing. It was the first time in four years the joint venture had been kept to nil. ''Bryce Gibbs said it was the first time he's ever kept a team to nil,'' said Gallen, who ran for more than 200 metres for the fourth successive week. ''He's always thinking about weird stuff.''
The closest they got to scoring was when Jason Nightingale crossed in the second half, but video referee Russell Smith ruled the Kiwi winger just grazed the touchline. ''It was difficult that one, I'm not quite sure if his heel touched the line or not,'' Dragons coach Steve Price said.
Naturally, talk turned to Origin - and Carney - afterwards, but ''Gal'' wasn't buying in. ''If he's playing good enough, he'll get picked,'' he said. ''Simple as that. I don't pick the team, the players pick themselves. He played really good tonight, he defended tough and kicked really well. He's putting his best foot forward.''
There was some sombre news, however, for the visitors. Fullback Nathan Gardner has played his last game for the year after suffering an ACL near the end of the game.
CRONULLA 12 (W Graham J Morris tries T Carney 2 goals) bt ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA 0 at Toyota Stadium. Referee: Matt Cecchin, Adam Devcich. Crowd: 21,380.