The Cronulla Sharks have given Luke Lewis the perfect tonic in his 300th NRL game, defeating the South Sydney Rabbitohs 26 points to 12 on Friday night.
Lewis was given a heroes welcome to the arena, entering with his wife Sonia and daughter Hazel through a tunnel of family and friends.
In the game, the Sharks earnt an early penalty after Thomas Burgess was too slow to get himself off the Sharks tackled player.
Working their way down field, it would Wade Graham who would open the scoring when he crashed over from a short ball from James Maloney close to the Rabbitohs line.
Maloney converted from left of the posts and the Sharks would lead 6-0 after 5 minutes.
The Rabbitohs would then feel the benefit of being gifted two relatively easy penalties in quick succession to work there way deep into Sharks territory.
The visitors worked the ball to the right-edge of the field before Adam Reynolds put through a deft grubber that found a flying Braidon Burns who collected the ball to touch down for Souths’ first try of the night.
Reynolds would convert and scores would be even at 6-6 after 10 minutes.
The Sharks would go then go close to crossing over for their second of the evening as they made their way down inside the Rabbitohs 10 metres and Fa’amanu Brown scrooped the ball up from dummy half and fired a pass to his captain in Paul Gallen.
The pass would be too hard for the number 13 and the ball went to ground, handing possession back to the Bunnies.
The Sharks rake would make amends in the 23rd minute when he picked up the ball at dummy half following a Matt Prior charged and barged over himself close to the line.
Maloney’s conversion was successful and the Sharks were back in the lead 12-6 with 17 minutes remaining in the first half.
Continuing to pile the pressure on the Bunnies, the Sharks would again work their way deep into Souths territory after some powerful runs by their forwards.
Nu Brown scooped the ball out of dummy half however the Rabbitohs player at marker knocked the hooker’s pass down and was subsequently penalised, handing the Sharks a gift penalty in front of goal.
Maloney took the easy two points and the Sharks lead was 14-6 after 27 minutes.
James Segeyaro came onto the field and injected some much needed energy as the Souths defence began to tire.
Segeyaro’s energy sparked the Sharks into attacking action however they were not able to turn this field position and territory into added scoreboard pressure.
As the clock counted down to half time, Gerard Beale made a half-break off a Robbie Farrah kick and made his way over halfway. The Sharks spread the ball to the left and were off down field when Sosaia Feki broke down the left wing.
From the play the ball, the Sharks earnt themselves a penalty as Adam Reynolds was called to be offside. James Maloney opted to take the two points however missed the regulation shot just to the right of the uprights and the score remained 14-6 at half time.
The second half began at high-intensity, with both sides throwing the kitchen sink at each other in the opening exchanges.
With the intensity of the match at a premium, the Sharks upped the ante and attempted to go around the Rabbitohs. This began to work when James Maloney took the ball to the left on the Bunnies’ 40 metre line before passing off to Valentine Holmes who then offloaded to Ricky Leutele.
The Sharks centre looked to break through the Souths line however was wrapped by his opposite number in Robert Jennings so attempted to offload to his winger Sosaia Feki however the ball travelled forward and into touch.
It would then be the Rabbitohs who would gain the momentum back when they marched their way down field, deep into Sharks territory. The ball came to John Sutton inside the Sharks 10 metre line and the big-bodied 5/8 took the ball to the line and managed to crash his way over for another South Sydney try.
Reynolds would convert and the score was 14-12 after 55 minutes.
As the clock hit 60 minutes, the Sharks lifted as the back five worked hard to get their side out of trouble.
Feki caught a Reynolds bomb in goal before sprinting to the 20 metre line to restart the set, making 10 metres off the ensuing run. Strong runs from Gerard Beale, Ricky Leutele and Paul Gallen provided good motion for the Sharks however once again, the boys in the black, white and blue were unable to convert the field position into points.
Not to be out done by the set back, the Sharks would work their way back into Souths territory and within striking distance of the Rabbitohs line.
Maloney took the ball to the line and put a soft grubber through which high the uprights before bouncing up to Gerard Beale who crossed over for an opportunist try.
Maloney added the extras and the Sharks lead was out to eight points at 20-12 with 72 minutes played.
With Souths trying to claw their way back into the match, the Sharks defence would hold resolute and hold them out from scoring.
Chad Townsend and James Maloney then took complete control of the game, and pushed their side deep into Souths territory. The good work would prove fruitful as Ricky Leutele barged over off a Maloney short ball to put the game to bed.
Maloney would add the extras, taking the score to 26-12 and handed the victory to Luke Lewis in his 300th NRL match.
Cronulla Sharks 26: Tries: Wade Graham, Fa’amanu Brown, Gerard Beale, Ricky Leutele tries. Goals: Maloney 4/4 convs, 1/2 pens.
South Sydney Rabbitohs 12: Tries: Burns, Sutton. Goals: Reynolds 2/2 convs.