The goal of a top four berth is still well and truly alive for the NYC Sharks after a narrow 18-16 win over Souths at ANZ Stadium on Monday night.
In a dour defensive struggle played in drizzling rain, the Sharks had to watch on as Souths half back Chad O’Donnell lined up a 40-metre shot a penalty goal after the siren to tie the game, however when the kick swung to the right hand side of the uprights the young Cronulla team had claimed an extremely valuable two competition points.
In moving to 31 points after 24 rounds the Sharks are in fifth position, level with the Dragons and just one behind next week’s opponent the Sydney Roosters.
Two wins in their last two matches will see John Morris’s squad earn a spot in the top four and a second chance in the under-20’s finals.
The match began well enough for the Sharks when winger Josh Tuilagi proved too big and strong for his opposite number, the talented winger touching down wide out for the first score of the night.
The conversion attempt from Rhys Davies sailed wide but it was a positive start at 4-0 up after 10 minutes.
A soft try to Souths through the middle of the ruck would have disappointed Morris and his team and when the four pointer was converted Souths were ahead 6-4 midway through the opening period.
Shortly after the Rabbitohs would add to their lead with a try in the north-west corner in making it 10-4 but the Sharks remained composed, started to dominate field position and moved back into an attacking zone.
Again proving hard to handle on their left hand side in attack, this time it was young centre Isaac Lumelume running through a gap and dashing 20-metres to touchdown for his teams’ second try of the night.
The Davies attempt to add the extra two was unsuccessful once again however the Sharks had some renewed confidence at just 10-8 behind.
Remaining on the front foot they pressed the Souths line soon after and it was some clever play from Will Kennedy that saw Sione Katoa slide over to put his side up 12-10 at the break.
Points were hard to come by early in the second half and it took 20 minutes before either team was able to add to their first half tally, with the Sharks next to score, going further ahead courtesy of an impressive individual effort from Lachlan Stein, the stocky centre beating a handful of Rabbitoh defenders in a determined 15-metre charge.
Taking over the kicking duties Jack Williams slotted the conversion from close range and the Sharks could feel somewhat more confortable at eight points up.
Just when it appeared they would defend their 18-10 lead until the fulltime whistle Souths managed to cross with two minutes left on the clock, the try converted by O’Donnell, making for some nervous moments in the Sharks coaching box.
The Rabbitohs managed to march down the field and on the fifth play of their final set were gifted an opportunity to tie the game after a high tackle brought a penalty and with it a chance to level the match with a 40-metre kick.
O’Donnell wasn’t quite up to the task and with the siren sounding in the background the Sharks had held on for an important win.
While the two points were a definite positive, the major negative to come from the game surrounded injuries suffered by senior players Jayden Brailey and Jayden Walker.
Brailey hobbled from the field midway through the second half with a hip problem, with the injury to Walker perhaps the more serious of the two, the backrower limping off late in the contest with suspected ankle ligament damage, his absence leaving his team one man short for the last five minutes as all the Sharks interchanges had been used.
The Sharks will now look ahead to their next assignment, that being a match against the Sydney Roosters at Southern Cross Group Stadium next Saturday night.
Josh Tuilagi, Sione Katoa, Isaac Lumelume, Lachlan Stein tries, Jack Williams goal
Jacob McCudden, Tarquinn Butler, Bailey Shiach-Wise tries, Chad O’Donnell 2 goals