The Sharks have started their 2019 campaign on a positive note with a 28-22 trial victory over Manly, despite having up to 10 players from their potential round one line up watching on from the sidelines.
The young Sharks hung in and defended strongly during the first half before securing the win with an impressive second 40-minute display.
Young guns Bronson Xerri, Kyle Flanagan and Blayke Brailey more than held their own against senior opposition, leaving coach John Morris with some election headaches in the three weeks before round one and the season proper.
The match began with the Sharks facing a strong headwind and as a result were forced to defend successive sets early in the contest, with Manly eventually able to exploit their advantage as Martin Taupau strolled over almost untouched.
Trent Hodkinson added the extras and it was 6-0 to the visitors.
Against the run of play the Sharks would be next to score, the try coming after a Sione Katoa intercept and a spectacular 60-metre dash from young centre Xerri.
From the ensuing play a quick shift saw the ball go through a series of hands before Josh Morris would touch down on the opposite side of the field.
Kyle Flanagan was on target with the difficult conversion into the southerly wind and the teams were locked at 6-all.
Manly would again dominate field position with the wind at their backs and they would go to the front when Curtis Sironen ran hard and straight, crashing over adjacent to the posts. Hodkinson converted and it was 12-6 Manly at the end of the first 20-minute quarter.
After a short break the Sharks would level, the try coming after another long range effort from Xerri, the 18-year-old accepting a Flanagan off-load before showing speed and evasion in a 75-metres turn to the line. Flanagan kicked the goal from in front to level it up at 12-all.
Before the whistle would blow for half time Manly managed to grab their third try, Daly Cherry Evans backing up a line break with the Sea Eagles going to the main break up by 18-12.
Despite facing a deficit, with only 35 per cent of the ball, coach Morris would have been reasonably satisfied with the first half effort.
Both clubs made multiple changes at the break, fielding vastly different line ups to the teams which started the game, making it was anyone’s guess as to how the second half would pan out but it was the Sharks to go on the front foot early and level up in the first set of six.
Again the ball found Xerri on the right hand side, once more coming from a Flanagan pass, the youngster slicing through, then finding an unmarked Sione Katoa, the winger touching down in the north-eastern corner.
Flanagan slotted the kick from wide out, making it 18-all and from their the Sharks would go on with the job.
The next points came from another of the Sharks teenagers in Ronaldo Mulitalo when he slid over in the corner, Flanagan keeping his perfect kicking record intact with the sideline conversion, then after the Sea Eagles narrowed the margin to two with their fourth try, it was Mulitalo again who completed the scoring with his second four-pointer of the night.
A young and inexperienced Sharks line up finished the match strongly, securing the six point win in giving the home team both a points win and without up to a dozen potential round one starters, a moral victory as well.
The Sharks now head to Maitland next Saturday to play the Knights, before heading up the freeway again to play Newcastle in round one at McDonald Jones Stadium on March 15.
Ronaldo Mulitalo 2, Bronson Xerri, Sione Katoa, Josh Morris tries, Kyle Flanagan 4 goals
Daly Cherry-Evans, Martin Taupau, Curtis Sironen, Jade Anderson tries, Trent Hodkinson 3 goals