by Nathan Beuman
The Cronulla Sharks have tasted defeat for the first time in 2014, going down to a quality Illawarra Cutters side 34-22 at Remondis Stadium.
Errors at key times cost the Sharks, who struggled to keep up with an Illawarra side boasting the likes of Bronson Harrison and Jack Stockwell.
The Cutters opened the scoring courtesy of some quick hands in the third minute, throwing it out wide to Geoff Daniella who dived over in the left hand corner, giving the visitors an early 4-0 lead, after Sam Duggan’s conversion was waved away.
With Cronulla on the back foot following a penalty, the Cutters spread it wide again, this time to Nathan Smith on the opposite side, crossing for his first try of the afternoon. Duggan’s conversion put Illawarra up 10-0 after only ten minutes.
Cronulla pegged Illawarra back moments later though, when Nathan Stapleton jumped on a loose ball, before outrunning a number of Cutters chasers to score a spectacular 90 metre try. Stapleton however was unable to convert his own four pointer, leaving the scores at 10-4 after 14 minutes.
Peter Mata’utai was the next to cross for the Cutters, sneaking over with eight minutes left in the half, to put Illawarra out to a lead of two converted tries following the successful kick.
The Sharks hit back with three minutes remaining in the half, when Kurt Mann found Nathan Stapleton on the right hand edge, recording a first half double, before converting his own try, putting the scores at 16-10 heading into half time.
Illawarra came out switched on after the break, recovering the kickoff, before a lovely ball from Ryan Carr gifted Will Matthews his first try of the season, extending the visitors lead to 20-10 within the opening minute of the half, after Duggan’s conversion was waved away.
Cronulla managed to once again close the gap off the back of two quick penalties, when Michael Lichaa took advantage of a napping Cutters defensive line, diving over and brining the Sharks to within four points following the Stapleton conversion with 46 minutes gone.
Just when the Sharks looked to be climbing back on top, a beautiful out the back ball from Harrison had Smith in for his second of the afternoon. Duggan was unsuccessful with the conversion, leaving the scores at 24-16 with 25 minutes remaining.
In almost a replica try two minutes later, the Cutters again spun it wide to Smith, with Duggan this time converting the try, giving Illawarra a 30-16 lead with 22 minutes left on the clock.
After four repeat sets in a row, Cronulla finally managed to crack a strong Cutters goal line defence, when Junior Roquica strolled through almost untouched with six minutes remaining, putting the scores at 30-22 following Stapleton’s conversion, setting up a grandstand finish.
However, the Cutters rounded out the scoring in the 77th minute, when Mata’utai found an unmarked Daniella in the left hand corner for his second of the match, and securing a 34-22 victory for the Cutters.
The Sharks travel up to Hunter Stadium to take on a Newcastle Knights outfit who is yet to lose in season 2014. Kickoff is at 12:45pm, with both the Holden Cup and first grade following in what will surely be a great afternoon of rugby league.
Illawarra Cutters 34 (Nathan Smith 3, Geoff Daniella 2, Peter Mata’utai, Will Matthews tries; Sam Duggan 3 goals) def. Cronulla Sharks 22 (Nathan Stapleton 2, Michael Lichaa, Junior Roquica tries; Nathan Stapleton 3 goals) at Remondis Stadium. Goal kickers: Sam Duggan (Illawarra) 3 from 7, Nathan Stapleton (Cronulla) 3 from 4)
Penalty count: Cronulla 10-5 Illawarra
1 Kurt Mann
2 Nathan Stapleton
3 Justin O’Neill
4 Jacob Gagan
5 Josh Portlock
6 Ben Roberts
7 Penani Manumalealii
8 Tim Robinson
20 Michael Lichaa
10 Dayne Weston
11 Junior Moors
12 Junior Roqica
14 Scott Sorensen
15 Michael Morris
16 Sione Masima
17 Pat Politoni
26 David Fifita