The Cronulla Sharks have scored a 20-points-to-18 win over the Penrith Panthers in their Round 9 clash at Southern Cross Group Stadium.
Up by 8 points at the break, the Sharks were forced to come from behind late on in the match, as the side recorded a fifth victory in as many weeks to shore up their spot inside the NRL’s top four.
The Sharks got off to a dream start through hooker Michael Ennis who crossed for the first try of the afternoon – and the first of his season – in seeing the side to a 4-nil front inside four minutes.
James Maloney couldn’t add the extra two from the tee, as the score remained.
The early points had looked to have set the tone for what promised to be an open first half affair, but despite shooting out of the blocks, the Sharks were asked to do the bulk of defence in the opening 40 minutes.
During the first half, both sides traded blows with neither able to penetrate after Ennis’ early try.
Jayson Bukuya was brought to the sideline under a concussion test which saw the introduction of crowd-favourite Luke Lewis.
The international back rower had an immediate effect, catching Panthers fullback Matt Moylan in a bone-jarring tackle that sent the ball free.
A small altercation broke out and the Sharks were penalized after Michael Ennis was ruled to have sparked the incident, with the Panthers awarded a fresh set of six.
The Cronulla side kept up the strong defensive effort motoring along, with centre Jack Bird inflicting a heavy tackle on five-eighth Te Maire Martin that would ultimately see the young half ejected from the contest.
The Sharks began to build momentum as the half time siren loomed, and when the Panthers were too slow off the play the ball, Paul Gallen pointed to the sticks and Maloney added another two points.
The Sharks would go into the break leading 8-0, but in returning from the sheds, the Panthers were quick to strike back.
After consecutive bombs to winger Sosaia Feki, Jamie Soward once again went high to the Sharks left flank.
Feki was unable to take the catch and a favorable bounce saw the ball land in Moylan’s hands, who eluded a Ben Barba tackle to go over for his side.
Soward converted to take the score to 8-6.
The Sharks began to rally as the sun lowered over the ET Stand, and the side had looked to spread the ball to the left hand edge.
Looking to find the try line from close range, James Maloney appeared to reach out within touching distance, however came up short and lost the ball in the process.
Buoyed by regaining possession, the Panthers worked the ball up field, and pushed themselves into great field position.
The Penrith side spread the ball to the right edge and back rower Isaah Yeo crashed over for a four pointer.
Although with Jamie Soward unable to convert, the Panthers took a 10-8 lead with near on half-an-hour to play.
Both sides continued to trade blows, with the Cronulla crowd finding their voice in the hope to spur the side to a win.
Soon after, the Sharks looked to have taken the lead as Jack Bird broke the line and found Chad Townsend on the inside with a deft grubber.
The referee went the NRL Bunker, and despite the wants and wishes of the parochial crowd, a ‘no try’ was called.
The reversal of the referee’s decision too meant a change in the game’s momentum, and the visitors went back in to score soon after the Townsend try was denied.
The Panthers worked the ball right and young James Fisher-Harris powered over the line for the four-pointer. Moylan was unable to convert, as the lead remained with Penrith 14-8 to the good.
Not to be outdone, the Sharks looked to hit back from inside their own half and Chad Townsend pierced the defensive line.
Breaking down field, Townsend found his halves partner Maloney trailing inside, who streaked away for his second try in as many weeks.
The five-eighth converted his own try, to see the scores locked up at 14 points a piece.
The Sharks had looked to have sealed the deal when Valentine Holmes brushed off Jamie Soward to run 90 metres and score, but as is often the case at Southern Cross Group Stadium, the crowd was set for a grandstand finish.
Maloney converted Holmes’ try to send the Sharks to a 6-point front, but when Fisher-Harris crossed for his second of the afternoon, Soward had a chance to tie the game at 20.
Jeered in kind by the Sharks faithful at his back, Soward missed the conversion, ensuring the Sharks lead by 2 points with two minutes remaining.
The Sharks would hang on to the 20-18 lead as time dwindled, as the side ran out victors for the fifth consecutive week.
CRONULLA SHARKS 20 –
(Tries: Ennis, Maloney, Holmes | Goals: Maloney (2/3) | Penalty Goals: Maloney (2/2))
def. PENRITH PANTHERS 18 –
(Tries: Moylan, Fisher Harris (2), Yeo | Goals: Soward (1/3), Moylan (0/1))