The Cronulla Sharks have won their elimination final over the Rabbitohs, 28 points to 12 in front of 27,031 fans at the Allianz Stadium.
In a game with so much at stake for both sides, the Sharks and Rabbitohs had looked to settle into the match accordingly – but it was the defending premiers who would find their feet first.
The class player he is, Souths’ half Adam Reynolds looked to assert his ascendency on the clash early, in earning his side a repeat set within the opening minutes.
Able to hold of the Rabbitohs threat, the Sharks would then look to work the ball out of their end – and did so, and earned a penalty in the process.
In what was building to be a feisty affair, Luke Keary was penalised for a suspected eye gouge on Paul Gallen.
A run of penalties to the ‘home’ side would see the Sharks fans find their collective voice – and backed by the strong travelling support of the Cronulla faithful, the Sharks would go close to opening their accounts.
But in a match where the tension was on show for all to see, both sides remained locked at zero after the opening quarter of the match.
After an early injury scare in the warm-up, Andrew Fifita emerged from down the tunnel and the Cronulla fans soon arose as one.
Back on the field though, the Sharks would once more earn a penalty to have them in good territory – and they would soon after turn position into points, when five-eighth Jack Bird cut his way through the Souths defence to score the afternoon’s opening points.
After an early error, Bird’s confidence showed no signs of wavering, as he ran the best part of 40 metres before taking on Greg Inglis 1-on-1. Gordon converted the try, and the Sharks would take a 6-0 lead after 22 minutes.
While the match would to-and-fro for much of the first half hour, Coach Shane Flanagan would look to change the tempo and momentum in injecting Fifita into the contest ten minutes before the break.
Buoyed by Fifita’s presence the Sharks would find another gear, and in the prevailing set of six Wade Graham would cap off some good lead-up play with an acrobatic try from a Jeff Robson kick. Gordon would make no mistakes adjacent to the posts, in extending the Sharks lead to 12.
The ‘Sharkies’ chant was reverberating around the Allianz Stadium – and the parochial fans would soon have more reason to make their voices heard when Anthony Tupou crossed for the side’s third try of the afternoon.
Gordon would slot the extra two, and the Sharks shot out to an 18-nil lead just moments before the change of ends. And that’s how it would stay after the first forty, as Flanagan welcomed back his men into the sheds three converted tries to the good.
Upon the resumption the Rabbitohs would spring to life. Needing to gain some control of the match – and quickly – Greg Inglis looked to spark the side and they went close to scoring just minutes after returning to the park.
Again, the Sharks defence proved up to the task in repelling the South Sydney attack – and spurred on by their good work without the ball, they would head down the other end of the field with an intent to post more points.
Building pressure on the Rabbitohs’ goal line, Robson had forced a goal line drop out and earned the side another attacking raid.
Unable to post points though, the Rabbitohs had looked to open their accounts when Keary collected an Ennis grubber and ran 100+ metres to touch down.
Ruled a ‘No Try’ on field, the man upstairs denied the Rabbitohs and the Sharks would extend their lead to 20 from the ensuing penalty goal.
The play was one that all-but broke the Rabbitohs’ spirits, and the Sharks crossed again through Sam Tagataese to take their lead beyond 4 converted tries.
Late tries to Dylan Walker and Chris Grevsmuhl would see the Rabbitohs add some respectability to the score line – but it was all too little, too late for the 2014 champions.
In news out of the match, Michael Ennis was cited for a high shot in the second half, and was placed on report.
With the win over Souths, the Sharks book a semi-final showdown with the Cowboys in North Queensland next Saturday night.