Five key points – Sharks v Bulldogs
It was a huge night in the Shire, with a crowd of over 20,000 witnessing a nail-biting NRL clash and half time entertainment unparalleled anywhere else in the NRL.
The Bulldogs are invited to Southern Cross Group Stadium very often, more by NRL draw-makers than the Sharks, but maybe that needs to change going forward.
The Sharks skipper was great, his team coming from behind to win for the fourth match in a row and while the Origin players were missed, the Cronulla side claimed the all-important two competition points.
What were the big moments in the match, the key points to come from a memorable night of rugby league excitement.
1 NSW loss was the Sharks gain
Sharks skipper Paul Gallen made the decision to step down from Origin duties at the end of last season to concentrate his efforts on club football.
The benefits of that decision certainly came to fruition last night against the Bulldogs.
Two huge plays in the back end of the game turned the tide in the Sharks favour and without him and without those two efforts it might have been the two points that got away.
Escaping the in-goal and denying the Dogs a repeat set was enormous, setting up the Beale try shortly after, then the run to put Townsend in clear space for the field goal just as crucial.
With four away at Origin Gallen was needed and he delivered. The big aside, he also managed to run for 240 metres on the night, easily the most by any player on the field as the captain delivered in spades.
2 Queensland loss was the Sharks gain
While Gallen made his own call it was the Queenslanders who decided to leave incumbent Kangaroos winger Valentine Holmes out of their team for game one and again the Sharks were the beneficiaries.
Holmes continues to improve every week in the fullback role, his positional play, defense and kick returns a feature of another noteworthy performance.
After Gallen, Holmes was the next best for the winning team, his run off the back of the captains in-goal charge, then getting involved in the movement that sent Gerard Beale on his way for the Sharks try, key moments in the match.
He also brought the crowd to his feet when he produced a ‘Thurston’. Similar to a famous run last year when he bowled over the Cowboys captain, Holmes fearlessly charged into Bulldog Moses M’Bye knocking him backwards in an inspirational effort.
Holmes’s improvement in the fullback role continues, the sky is the limit and with Holmes just inking a new contract, that’s exciting going forward.
3 Townsend takes control
With his partner in crime James Maloney watching on from Blues camp in Kingscliff, the responsibility for directing the Sharks around the field fell at the feet of Chad Townsend.
The field goal was one thing, calmly potted in the 78th minute to put the Sharks in front, but it was Townsend’s overall kicking game that impressed.
The ball was repeatedly shifted to the right to Townsend for the last tackle kicks and more times than not the Sharks seven found the right option.
If only, coach Shane Flanagan might be saying, Townsend’s teammates could have managed to take advantage of his attacking kicks a couple of tries would have resulted and the winning margin have been greater.
It was a good sign that Townsend was able to step up in Maloney’s absence and another display of the development in the Sharks half.
4 Beale’s time to shine
Wherever coach Flanagan plays him, Gerard Beale gets the job done.
As a utility option he was coming off the bench during the 2016 Grand Final charge, playing whatever role was required.
This year he has played fullback in the absence of Valentine Holmes, on the wing and last night at centre, always doing a professional job.
Then last night with Jack Bird away, the big moment came to Beale and he didn’t disappoint. Following some good lead up work from Gallen, then Holmes, Beale was passed the ball around the half way line with some time and space.
A left foot step took him past Bulldog five-eighth Matt Frawley, he pushed away from the inside cover and took off, showing enough speed to outdistance the defense in a 45-metre run to the line.
Usually in the background, quietly going about his business, it was Beale’s time to shine.
5 Bulldogs, where have you been?
Last night was the first time since 2011, just the second occasion in the last 10 years that the Sharks had hosted the Bulldogs at their home ground.
Anomalies in the NRL draw has seen the two teams play just once each year since 2007 and those games for whatever reason have been somewhere else, primarily Bulldog home games, while the Sharks took one match to the Central Coast back in 2013.
But after last nights exciting night, the great roll up of Bulldog fans, when added to the Sharks faithful and 20,000 turned up to take in the spectacle.
Sure the Dance Spec, with 1,800 dancers performing at half time helped the crowd numbers, but any way you think about, during Origin week with seven star players missing, the attendance was outstanding.
Hopefully those responsible for putting together the NRL draw received the message loud and clear. More Sharks v Bulldogs games in the Shire we say.