The Cronulla Sharks have stolen a late 24-22 victory from the clutches of the Wests Tigers at Southern Cross Group Stadium on Saturday night.
Tonight’s contest certainly started with a bang as the Sharks pressured the Tigers line early on. With fire works pre-game, both sides were in the mood to throw the ball around.
The Sharks were handed an early advantage as Ava Seumanufagai was sent to the bin for a professional foul on Paul Gallen after the skipper took a quick tap close to the Tigers line.
Pressuring the Tigers line, the Sharks were unable to convert the good field position into points as Gerard Beale was unable to hold onto a wayward Chad Townsend pass.
With the Seumanufagai off the field, the Sharks were well placed to make the most of the one-man advantage. It would be to no avail though as it was in fact the Tigers who had the best of the field position during the early stages of the match.
However once the clock hit the 20-minute mark, the Sharks found the spark that they were looking for as they marched down field toward the Tigers line.
Shifting the ball to the right side of the field, Edrick Lee looked to have missed a golden opportunity to cross in the corner as he stepped back in field however he managed to get the ball away to a looming Kurt Capewell who dove over from close range for the Sharks’ first try of the night.
Chad Townsend would assume the kicking duties in James Maloney’s Origin absence however was unable to convert the shot from the sideline.
Despite crossing for the first try, the Sharks would continue to make simple mistakes and put pressure on themselves. This was highlighted most when Gerard Beale was not able to hold onto a Brooks bomb, handing the Tigers the ball in good field position.
The Tigers then pressured the Sharks line and it was only time before the home side’s defence gave in. The Tigers debutant Matt Eisenhuth took the ball to direct close to the line and played a short ball off to a barnstorming Elijah Taylor who would cross for the Tigers’ first try of the night.
Tuimoala Lolohea would make no mistake with the conversion attempt and the Tigers were in the lead 6-4 after 27 minutes.
The Tigers would be the next to score as they were awarded a dubious penalty when Jayson Bukuya was ruled to have tackled Luke Brooks late and high.
From the ensuing set of six the Tigers, another Tigers debutant would make his presence felt when Esan Marsters crashed over from close range at dummy half.
Lolohea would once again make no mistake with the conversion and the score would be 12-6 as the half time break loomed.
When the sides returned from the sheds, the Tigers were again dominant in attacking, making quality metres and forcing the Sharks to work the ball out of their own end.
The pressure eventually result in points to the Tigers as Jacob Liddle took advantage of some lazy Sharks defence taking the ball out of dummy half close to the Sharks line and extending his side’s lead to 16-4.
Lolohea’s conversion was unsuccessful, which may have proven costly in the end.
With their backs against the wall, the Sharks were in need of a response. And respond they did.
Kurt Capewell took a hard carry up through the middle of the field and would work hard for a quick play the ball. Sharks debutant Daniel Mortimer took the ball quickly out of dummy half passing of to Joseph Paulo who found Sosaia Feki flying through on his inside.
The Sharks no.2 would fly down field before passing to Chad Townsend in support. Townsend was brought down by his opposite number Luke Brooks however was not held and he would jump his way over the line to get the Sharks back into the contest.
Townsend’s conversion was successful and the score would go to 16-10 to the Tigers.
The grind between the two sides was well and truly on by now, with both sides trading big forward blows through the middle of the park with some big forward collisions.
With 20 minutes remaining, the Premiers identified the task at hand and aimed up for the occasion as they worked the ball into space on their left edge.
Jayson Bukuya found himself in open space before finding a flying Ricky Leutele. The centre was pulled down 10m out from the Tigers line before the home side would send the ball to the right side of the park where Kurt Capewell looked to have been brought down inches from the line only to force himself over for a Sharks try.
The potential try would go to the NRL Bunker and the centre, who was one of the Sharks’ best on the night, would be awarded a decisive four-pointer and the Sharks were well and truly back in the contest.
Townsend was unable to make the conversion and the score remained 16-14 to the Tigers.
The Tigers though were not to be outdone as they responded in kind when Malakai Watene-Zelezniak crossed over for his first NRL try to extend the Tigers’ lead to 20-14. Lolohea’s conversion attempt was successful from the sideline and the Tigers would lead 22-14 with 10 minutes remaining.
The razzle-dazzle football continued at Southern Cross Group Stadium with the Sharks next to hit back when Edrick Lee finished off a slick backline play to go over in the right corner with 5 minutes on the board.
Chad Townsend was ice-cool in his sideline conversion attempt, nailing the kick and getting the Sharks to within two points at 22-20.
Big games require big plays and the Sharks well and truly delivered.
As the Sharks worked their way deep into Wests Tigers territory and with less than two minutes on the clock, Daniel Mortimer scooped the ball up out of dummy half and noticed there to be no fullback at the home for the Tigers.
Jayson Bukuya would be the hero on the night, diving on the Mortimer grubber and putting the Sharks in the lead for the first time since early in the match.
Chad Townsend’s conversion attempt was unsuccessful however it would not matter as the Sharks 24-22 lead was enough to get them home for the win.
Cronulla Sharks 24 (Capewell 2, Townsend, Lee, Bukuya tries. Townsend (2/5 conv.)
Wests Tigers 22