by Nathan Beuman
The Cronulla Sharks have started their 2014 campaign in style, with a comprehensive 38-30 victory over the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs at Belmore Sports Ground.
Despite losing fullback Nathan Gardner to a shoulder injury in the opening stages of the match, Cronulla led for much of the game, courtesy of a dazzling three try outing from hooker Michael Lichaa.
The Bulldogs opened the scoring in the 5th minute, when a fast thinking Jaline Graham jumped on a loose ball before running 80 metres to score, giving his side an early 6-0 lead.
The defending Premiers were fast to reply though, when prop forward Tim Robinson shrugged off several defenders to crash his way over and level the scores back up at 6 a piece just four minutes later.
Canterbury-Bankstown hit back quickly, when a short ball from Brad Clark found a waiting Makahesi Makatoa, who crossed adjacent to the right hand upright to put the Dogs up 12-6 following the Pat Templeman conversion.
A slick piece of play down the right hand edge from Cronulla’s five-eight Kurt Mann saw Nathan Stapleton cross in the 19th minute, bringing the visitors back to within two.
Michael Lichaa capped off a dominant first half for the visitors, crossing for three converted tries in the space of ten minutes, to send the Sharks in 28-12 ahead at half time.
Cronulla didn’t let up after the break, with Lichaa continuing to toy with Canterbury’s defense, bursting his way through a tiring Bulldogs line to set up Scott Sorensen under the posts, extending the lead to 34-12.
Tony Herman didn’t have to wait long for his side’s next points, when a Penani Manumalealii across field kick was tapped back infield by Nathan Stapleton, into the waiting arms of new recruit Jacob Gagan, to give Cronulla a commanding 38-12 lead with 30 minutes to play.
A late fightback led by Jaline Graham saw the Dogs run in four tries in the final 20 minutes, but it wasn’t enough, falling eight points short against a Cronulla outfit that will be very tough to beat in season 2014.
The Sharks will be desperately hoping that Nathan Gardner will be given the all clear to play next week, when Cronulla head to Leichhardt Oval to take on the West Tigers at 3pm on Saturday.
NSW Cup SHARKS 38
Lichaa 3, Robinson, Stapleton, Sorenson, Gagan tries, Stapleton 5goals
Graham, Makatoa, Templeman, Murphy, Alaalatoa, Sila tries, Templeman 3 goals
SHARKS TEAM LIST
1 Nathan Gardner
2 Nathan Stapleton
15 Junior Roqica
4 Jacob Gagan
19 Junior Kirisome
6 Kurt Mann
7 Penani Manumalealii
8 Tim Robinson
9 Michael Lichaa
10 Dayne Weston
11 Junior Moors
12 Michael Morris
20 Slade Griffin
14 Pat Politoni
16 David Fifita
13 Scott Sorensen
18 John Filipo