The Cronulla Sharks under-20s are a step closer to a top-two finish in the Jersey Flegg Cup after dismantling the North Sydney Bears 36-10 on Sunday.
Four unanswered tries in the first half set the platform for the convincing win at North Sydney Oval, but the Sharks also had to defend stoutly to keep the Bears at bay.
Centre Bronson Xerri was near unstoppable on the left edge. Xerri – a NSW under-20s representative – capped a sublime performance by scoring two tries, setting up another three and producing numerous line-breaks.
The Sharks earned their first attacking opportunity in the fifth minute when a Braydon Trindall bomb was spilled by North Sydney 15 metres out from the try line. They capitalised immediately.
Off the ensuing scrum, Cronulla slung the ball wide to Xerri, whose footwork and power saw him get to the chalk.
Trindall couldn't convert and the score-line stayed at 4-0.
Xerri again showed his class when he sent Isaac Lumelume on a long run down the touchline. The towering winger was rounded up, but a penalty on the next tackle resulted in North Sydney forward Justin Frain being sin-binned.
With a one-man advantage, the Sharks shifted the ball to the right where halfback Trindall threw a perfect pass for centre Jackson Ferris to score untouched.
Trindall added the extras for a 10-0 lead.
The next try was a Sharks special. The ball travelled from one side of the field to the other and through several sets of hands before Xerri tipped on to Lumelume, who barrelled across one-on-one. Trindall converted.
And it was the Xerri-Lumelume combination that laid on the next four-pointer as well. A clever short-side move off a tap allowed Xerri to sum up the situation with a great ball for his ever-reliable outside man.
Trindall made no mistakes with the goal-kick and Cronulla led 20-0 after 20 minutes. It would stay that way until half-time
While the Sharks had two certain tries taken off them late in the first half due to forward passes, they dotted down for a fifth time shortly after the break.
Unsurprisingly, it was Xerri who initially did the damage. He made a magnificent clean break from well within the Sharks' end, then offloaded. A long pass from a supporting player placed the ball in Ferris' hands, and he did exceptionally well to finish.
Moments later, fullback Luke Polselli added his name to the list of try-scorers when he went in under the posts. Trindall landed his third goal of the afternoon to give the Sharks a massive buffer.
North Sydney finally posted points midway through the second stanza via centre Maila Chan-Foon, reducing the deficit to 30-4.
The Bears added further respectability to the score with a try to fullback Kyle Tukapua, converted by Blake Taaffe.
But Xerri soon completed his double in simple circumstances, backing up through the middle to cross without a finger laid on him. It was just reward for a simply sensational match from the teenage speedster.
While the result will no doubt please Sharks coach Dave Howlett, there is still scope for improvement heading into the finals, given Cronulla completed scrappily and were at times guilty of ill-discipline.
However, it's clear the Sharks will be major contenders come playoff time with their offensive prowess.