The Cronulla Sharks have secured a nail-biting 9-8 victory over the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs tonight at Southern Cross Group Stadium.
Despite the absence of key players James Maloney, Wade Graham, Jack Bird and Andrew Fifita, the versatile Sharks outfit maintained composure in front of a sell-out crowd of 20,497 fans.
The match boiled down to two big plays from the captain in the closing moments, with Paul Gallen a standout on the night.
The match began with the the Sharks defence being tested out wide but they were able to keep Canterbury, centre Brenko Lee almost breaking through but it would be a cunning kick from Chad Townsend’s to force an early drop out that would ultimately result in first points.
A penalty against the visitors in the ninth minute for keeping their hands on the ball in a ruck allowed full back Valentine Holmes, taking over the kicking duties due to the absence of Maloney, to open his teams account from in front of the posts as the Sharks went up 2-0.
The Sharks continued to apply pressure and minutes later Townsend fired a cross-field kick to winger Edric Lee, who was grounded by Bulldogs defenders inches from the line.
Shortly after, in the 26th minute Moses Mbye found his centre partner in Brenko Lee, concidently the cousin of ht eSharks Edrick, who dodged his way around defenders to cross. A successful Kerrod Holland conversion put the visitors out in front 6-2.
Play moved from end to end and both sides excelled in defence. Jayden Brailey’s tackling was key in forcing the formidable Sam Kasiano to drop the ball at a crucial moment, before the Bulldogs Holland made an impact in diffusing two sneaky Sharks grubbers.
The home side would struggle to turn possession into points during the closing minutes of the first half with their only real opportunity coming when Luke Lewis was unable to secure another well-weighted Townsend grubber in the in goal area.
HALF TIME Sharks 2 Bulldogs 6
A Bulldogs penalty goal in the 53rd minute saw Holland extended the visitors lead to six points however it appeared as though the Sharks had narrowed the gap four minutes later when Sosaia Feki scooped up a loose ball and crashed over in the left corner.
The potential try was sent to the video with the Sharks’ denied after the NRL Bunker confirmed he was pushed into touch before grounding the ball.
It didn't take too much longer though for the Sharks to cross, with an exchange of passing seeing captain Paul Gallen pass to Holmes, before Gerard Beale would race away on a 40-metre run to score adjacent to the posts.
Holmes slotted the conversion under intense pressure and with less than 15 minutes remaining the scores were locked up at 8-points all.
A Bulldogs set deep in Sharks territory would end with Lewis charging down the kick and running 65 metres however unfortunately the Sharks six tackles amounted to nothing and a grandstand finish resulted.
Minus their four Origin stars the Sharks needed something special and they got it from their skipper who made two inspirational plays to turn the tide in his teams favour.
The first saw Gallen bravely gather a grubber kick and miraculaously escape the in goal area, before a charge inside the Bulldogs half of the field, when he made a line break through the middle of the ruck, set up a field goal opportunity.
And Townsend didn't disappoint, chipping over the one-pointer in the 77th minute of the match to keep the Sharks inside the top four as they head into a bye week.
The Sharks moved to 18 competiiton points, jumping the Broncos for the and moving into second position on the NRL ladder.
The next game for the Sharks is a top of the table clash with the Melbourne Storm.
FULL TIME Sharks 9 Bulldogs 8
Gerard Beale try, Valentine Holmes 2 goals, Chad Townsend field goal
Brenko Lee try, Kerrod Holland 2 goals