Sharks take control of Panthers

By NRL.com

Neither a black cat invading the field of play nor the 17 Panthers they faced could prevent the Sharks from winning their 13th consecutive game 26-10 on Sunday afternoon in Penrith.  

Pepper Stadium's pet policy was the least of the Panthers' worries as the Sharks extended their unprecedented streak despite being without New South Wales Origin quintet Paul Gallen, Andrew Fifita, Jack Bird, James Maloney and Wade Graham.  

Fullback Ben Barba proved the hero for the Sharks with his two first-half tries setting up his side's win, with Barba going close to making it a hat-trick on two occasions in the second half.  

It was Barba who looked to have helped Valentine Holmes to the game's first try with a well-directed grubber in the 12th minute but Dylan Edwards was having none of it – the Panthers debutant not only beating his Sharks counterpart to the ball but grounding it himself to prevent the try. 

The momentum swung Penrith's way almost immediately but they couldn't force the first blow as five-eighth Bryce Cartwright struggled to find a gap in the Sharks' brutal defence. 

Despite Penrith being tackled a whopping 26 times in the Sharks' 20-metre zone, it was the away side who scored first in the 23rd minute when five-eighth Fa'amanu Brown – in his first NRL in almost two season – put Barba over for his 10th try of the year.   

Barba made it a brace 10 minutes later, swooping on a loose ball after an attempted offload from Gerard Beale and holding off opposite man Zak Hardaker to score.

The Panthers finally put points on in the 37th minute when Wallace put prop Leilani Latu over to score with a cut-out pass.  

A frantic passage of play from the hosts in the final minute had the crowd abuzz with the ball travelling through 10 sets of hands before Wallace was tackled without the ball. But Nathan Cleary's missed penalty goal attempt on the stroke of half-time denied Penrith level-pegging.

Sharks veteran Mitch Brown – who opted to play his first NRL game in over a year rather than be the best man at his brother's wedding – extended the Sharks' lead to six in the 50th minute when he found his way through soft Panthers defence.  

Three minutes later a Will Smith error on his own try-line was scooped up by Joseph Paulo for the next Sharks try, and with Holmes (0/3) sacked from goal-kicking duties Chad Townsend ensured Cronulla would get maximum points for the first time.  

Townsend's penalty goal from 35 metres out made it a 20-6 scoreline midway through the second half. The Sharks onslaught wouldn't end there, as Luke Lewis powered his way over in the 69th minute to extend his side's lead to a 20-point lead. 

Isaah Yeo's try in the 73rd minute provided little relief for Panthers fans.

Cronulla Sharks 26 (Ben Barba 2, Mitch Brown, Joseph Paulo, Luke Lewis tries; Chad Townsend 3 goals) defeated Penrith Panthers 10 (Leilani Latu, Isaah Yeo tries; Nathan Cleary goal) at Pepper Stadium. Half-time: Sharks 8-6. Crowd: 12,682.