The Cronulla Sharks have fought off a gallant Manly Sea Eagles outfit to claim an eighth successive NRL win.
The Sharks, who last tasted defeat at the hands of the Sea Eagles in Round 3, claimed a vital victory against brave Manly side, to claim a vital two competition points and the Steve Rogers Cup.
Coming off a big win last week the Sharks again looked to click into gear quickly, and the side went in for the first points of the match via winger Sosaia Feki.
Gerard Beale’s smart tap-on saw Feki in space from a well-worked backline shift, and the winger was big and strong enough to take full advantage.
Kicker and five-eighth James Maloney made no mistake from out wide, with his first conversion attempt of the night a successful one in sending the Sharks to a 6-nil front.
Feki again saw space down the left edge in the 15th minute, and would have went close to scoring a second if not for a clutch save from Manly skipper Jamie Lyon.
It wasn’t all one-way traffic in the first period though, as Manly looked ominous on several occasions and likely to cross for points.
But the Sharks defence – as it showed against the Knights in Round 10 – was strong, and turned the visitors away.
Working the ball into good areas, the Sharks would earn consecutive penalties, and in the 20th minute opted to extend their lead to 8.
Valentine Holmes soon after crossed for the side’s second – and his fifth inside 6 days – to take the Sharks to a 12-nil lead.
From the Eastern touchline, Maloney couldn’t add the extras, as the score remained.
Looking comfortable as time in the first half dwindled, the Sharks gave up a late chance, and Manly would take full advantage of the opportunity.
A cheap turn over had the Sea Eagles on the attack, and flyer Tom Trbojevic punished the Sharks in sight of the half-time hooter.
Lyon failed to add the extra two, as the sides went into the sheds with the score at 12-4 in favour of the hosts.
The second half started much the same as the way the first finished, as Manly went in to score just five minutes after the change of ends.
Jamie Buhrer scored for the visitors from a deft kick, as the Sea Eagles edged back within four.
Again Lyon couldn’t convert.
The Sea Eagles went in for their third try when Brayden Wiliame crossed in the North-Western Corner.
Lyon missed a third successive shot at goal, as the score remained at 12-all.
The second period soon turned into a scrappy, dour affair, with the visitors proving a tough team to shake.
The Sharks soon worked into their grind, and earned a penalty in the 64th minute – while Maloney again chose to convert into two points.
Up by just two, the Sharks had looked to have conceded a late try when Wiliame again crossed.
However, the Manly side would be denied by the NRL Bunker – and rightly so – as Brett Stewart was deemed to have taken Ben Barba unfairly.
From the resulting penalty, the Sharks worked down field and built pressure and momentum inside the Manly half.
Barba capitalised in turning possession and position into points, scoring what proved to be the decisive try at the end of the 80 minutes.
Maloney slotted the two to send the Sharks to an unassailable 8-point lead with just minutes remaining.
The Sharks would run out eventual 20-points-to-12 victors, and now sit atop the NRL ladder after 11 rounds played.
The Sharks will enjoy a well-earned Bye next week, before taking on the Bulldogs away from Southern Cross Group Stadium in Round 12.
CRONULLA SHARKS – 20
Tries: Feki, Holmes, Barba| Goals: Maloney (Conv. 2/3, Pen. 2/2)
DEF. MANLY SEA EAGLES – 12
Tries: T. Trbojevic, Buhrer, Wiliame | Goals: Lyon (Conv. 0/3)