By Ryan Selvage (@ryanselvage)
5 KEY POINTS | Sharks v Raiders
In the wash up from the win against the Raiders in Canberra, we look at 5 key points to come out of the victory that saw the Sharks move into the NRL’s top eight.
1. Valentine Holmes has composure well beyond his years.
A teenager until his 20th birthday this Friday, Valentine Holmes has already shown Sharks fans and the NRL public alike that the added pressure – when he’s called upon to deliver – does not fluster him.
Holmes’ field goal kicked the Sharks ahead in Golden Point and sealed an all-important two competition points for his side.
The field goal was the second time in 2015 that the 19-year-old has won a Golden Point match off his own boot, having also done so to edge out the Titans on the Gold Coast in Round 10.
When the game is on the line, it seems that Cronulla’s youngest head is well placed on a pair of old shoulders – a factor that could prove crucial should the Sharks earn a top 8 berth in the 2015 finals series.
Need more proof that Holmes can handle the heat? Just cast your mind back to his special effort at this year’s Auckland Nines.
2. Luke Lewis’ form rivals his career best
Age shall not weary Luke Lewis.
The 31-year-old continues to churn out numbers that mirror those when he was at the supposed peak of his powers. But with no signs of letting up, the Sharks are the beneficiaries heading into the latter stages of the 2015 season.
Having scored nine tries from his 15 games this season, Lewis’ efforts in crossing the stripe have surpassed his season tallies in all years since his time as a Penrith winger in 2005.
Lewis’ 31 tackles, line break, three tackle busts, line break assist and try assist against the Raiders continued his recent run of good form for the Sharks. Having marked his 250th NRL appearance against the Dragons in Round 18, here’s hoping that Lewy has more calls to celebrate at the end of the season.
3. The Feki/Leutele combination continues to grow.
Ricky Leutele capped his 50th appearance in the top grade with a try, and sensational individual stats to boot. But it his ever-developing combination with his left-edge partner Sosaia Feki that has fans licking their lips just weeks out from the NRL finals.
The pair ran for close to a combined 300 metres, recorded seven tackle busts and broke the Raiders line on three occasions. Feki’s two breaks in Golden Point positioned the side well, which in turn allowed Holmes to slot the Cronulla field goal.
With Feki also marking his 50th appearance in the top grade in recent weeks, the Cronulla left edge continues to come of age and looks to be firing at the right time of the season.
4. The Cronulla pack don’t shy away from hard work
Statistics don’t always tell the full tale in Rugby League, but in what was a hard-fought effort against the big Raiders forwards, the numbers that the Sharks pack racked up were a true indication of their willingness to roll up the sleeves.
Lead by Andrew Fifita, the Cronulla big men got through a mountain of work in both attack and defence.
A.Fifita – 22 hit ups, 219 metres, 5 tackle busts, 1 linebreak, 26 tackles.
P. Gallen – 24 hit ups, 215 metres, 2 tackle busts, 36 tackles.
W.Graham – 21 hit ups, 166 metres, 5 offloads, 2 tackle busts, 25 tackles.
When the going gets tough, the tough get going.
5. Michael Ennis is a contender for buy of the year
Talking about phenomenal statistics, look no further than to Michael Ennis’ numbers in his debut year at the Sharks.
With 12 try assists, 10 linebreak assists, and averaging the most tackles per game for the side (31), ‘The Menace’ has been a revelation the since making the Cronulla number nine jersey his own this season.
Ennis very nearly took his try assist tally to 13 with a clutch grubber to see Andrew Fifita claim his second try against Canberra. And although the try was denied, the hooker showed that he can deliver the right play, at the right time, when required.
While the likes of Blake Austin, Anthony Milford and the Sharks’ own Jack Bird have been mentioned as contenders for the ‘Buy of the Year’, Ennis continues to stake his claims as the most astute purchase of the 2015 season.