The Sharks have launched season 2016 at Shark Park, playing out a 24-all draw with old foes Manly.
Shark Park was abuzz with excitement and anticipation, as Members and fans got their first glimpse of the side’s 2016 prospects on what was a picture-perfect afternoon.
With great anticipation and hype around the side’s new recruits, the Sharks got underway in a disappointing fashion, spilling the ball from the opening kick-off.
Manly would compound the Sharks mistake, as the visitors’ Fabian Goodall streaked to score the opening points of the afternoon. With hooker Hugh Pratt unable to add the extra two, though, the Sea Eagles remained only four points to the good.
As is often the case in pre-season fixtures, errors and penalties served to hinder the game’s flow in the early stages, but buoyed by the handy turn out around the Stadium, the Sharks soon found their feet to work their way into the contest.
Hard-running forward Sam Tagataese proved more than a handful for the Manly defence inside the opening quarter, busting the defensive line on two occasions before his third line-break brought the scores even at four.
New recruit James Maloney quickly turned four into six adjacent to the posts in converting the Tagataese try, taking the Sharks to the front.
Not to hold the lead for long, Manly would go in for their second try of the afternoon when Brayden Wiliame scooped up a loose ball to run away untouched. Manly would make no mistake off the tee second time around, in extending their lead to 10-6 after 22 minutes.
Forced to roll up their sleeves in defence, the Sharks would be rewarded for their efforts having repelled the Manly attack - rounding out the half with back-to-back tries thanks to Jack Bird and Kurt Capewell.
In true fullback fashion, Bird supported a mid-field bust to finish a Sharks effort in style, before Capewell showed good footwork and strength to edge his way over the line on the brink of the break.
Maloney remained flawless with the boot inside the first half, converting both tries to see his side into the sheds with an 18-10 advantage.
Early parts of the second period resembled large signs of the first, with the referee’s whistle sounding on several occasions and as drop balls became a regular sight.
It was the visitors though who would gather the momentum heading into the latter stages, running in consecutive tries to arrest control of the game as time ran short.
Pacey Sea Eagles winger Halauafu Lavaka bagged a try, before Manly’s Daniel Vasek saw his side to a 20 points to 18 lead. The efforts had looked to have clinched Manly the bragging rights, and with under 10 minutes to play, the Sharks were in desperate need of a late hero.
Following on from the match-winning form seen throughout much of the 2015 season, Sharks winger Valentine Holmes brought late joy to the Sharks supporters at the ground – his fleet of foot and good work from the kicking tee adding a much-needed six points to the side’s tally.
Holmes stepped through the Manly defence with relative ease, in taking the side to a four-point lead with under five minutes remaining on the clock.
Manly’s Lavaka would once more cross the stripe late, only for Pratt to miss what would have been a match-winning conversion after the final siren had sounded, albeit a difficult attempt from the touchline.
The Sharks will now turn their attentions to next Saturday’s trial match with the Wests Tigers at Campbelltown Sports Stadium.
CRONULLA SHARKS - 24
(TRIES: Tagataese, Bird, Capewell, Holmes | GOALS: Maloney (3/3), Holmes (1/1))
DREW WITH MANLY SEA EAGLES - 24