What were the game changers, the big plays, the main talking points to come from the Sharks loss to the Sea Eagles. Here’s what we thought
1 A genuine hoodoo
Call it a hoodoo, but by whatever name and for whatever reason, some clubs match up well and have consistently good results against certain teams.
Despite the Storm’s dominance in recent years, the Sharks have a strong record in matches played between the two teams, emphasised by their gutsy victory just a few weeks ago despite the fact they were missing a number of key personnel.
Similarly, the Sharks go reasonably well against the Panthers, at least lately, and their record in Canberra is solid in a place traditionally hard for visiting teams to jag a win.
Then there is Manly. The loss on Sunday was the 16th in the last 18 games played and the Sharks all-time win percentage in matches with the Sea Eagles is around 25 per cent, their lowest mark amongst all NRL opponents.
The teams don’t meet again in the regular season but if they came together in a finals encounter, that shapes as the perfect time to put the hoodoo to bed.
2. Saturday a ScoMo miracle, Sunday not so much
He entered the arena to a loud cheer from Sharks faithful, with the Prime Minister Scott Morrison, the Club’s number one ticket holder, in a buoyant mood following the Liberal Party’s ‘miracle’ victory in the Federal Election the day prior.
Swinging his black, white and blue scarf above is head pre-game in showing his fanatical support of the Cronulla team, Mr Morrison would have been hoping some of whatever helped the Libs over the line would also come to the assistance of the Sharks in the game against the Sea Eagles yesterday.
Unfortunately, the way the match turned out he didn’t have a lot to get excited about during an 80-minutes where the Sharks were chasing their tail from the moment Addin Fonua-Blake strolled through a gap in the defensive line early in the first half.
The Sharks have been assured his spirits won’t be dampened by the loss and when his busy schedule allows, the PM and local member for Cook will be back in the stands in full voice in the weeks ahead.
3 An early momentum shifter
The Sea Eagles out enthused and out defended the Sharks in a committed performance on Sunday, thoroughly deserving their win, however an early call by the match officials may have shaped what was to come in turning the tide in the Sea Eagles favour.
A botched last tackle play from Manly saw the ball go astray, before being picked up by Chad Townsend, the Sharks number seven darting down field.
Collared by the cover defence, Townsend threw a one-handed pass to Sosaia Feki on the left flank, putting his winger away.
To the dismay of the Sharks players and the 13,000-strong crowd, the pass was called forward and while he still had plenty for and a try far from a forgone conclusion, a scoring opportunity had gone begging.
As the rule states if the pass is thrown backwards, but floats forward, it is play on, which replays later showed clearly in relation to the Townsend pass.
Manly would get a scrum on half way, move into an attacking position and a short time later post the first try of the afternoon.
It was in the opening minutes, therefore won’t attract comment from the weekly NRL address concerning decisions from over the weekend, but it was an early momentum shifter from which the Sharks never really recovered.
4 Big Braden making his mark
A positive to come from the loss on Sunday was the performance and continued improvement from big front rower Braden Hamlin-Uele who was outstanding off the bench for the Sharks.
From his first touch Uele ran hard and ripped into the opposition, again playing extended minutes as coach John Morris gains more and more confidence in what his interchange forward can do.
His try, which came about through some smart thinking, was a just reward for his efforts, as was his man-of-the-match award presented by the coach at the post-game presentation in the Leagues Club auditorium.
Hamlin-Uele had played just one NRL game for the Cowboys in 2017, then one for the Sharks in 2018, before now stringing together six matches in a row through the opening 10 rounds this year.
And if he keeps producing as he did against the Sea Eagles, Uele will be hard to leave out of the 17 when all the senior players make their return from injury.
5 Fifita 200th under duress
If it was perceived that Andrew Fifita’s 200th game celebrations were a little low key, that has to do with the fact that the big fella wasn’t declared a starter until the morning of the game.
Fifita came from the field in the seventh minute of the game against the Titans the previous week, resulting in genuine fears of him being faced with a long stretch on the sidelines.
A combination of his remarkable powers of recovery – think back the round six Dragons game in 2018 when it appeared he had suffered an ACL tear in his knee, only to be back on the field the following week – and the fact that thankfully the injury wasn’t has bad as first feared, and there Fifita was leading the charge on Sunday.
Working diligently on his recovery during the week Fifita was given the all-clear to play and in 51 minutes on the field Fifita managed 141 metres gained, 27 tackles and a remarkable nine off-loads.
As always, Fifita was still more than a handful for the Manly defence, with his second stint his best as he tried to lift his team late in the game.
It has been an interesting journey for Andrew Fifita, who has achieved the highest honours in the game, playing for country and state, while helping the Sharks to a Grand Final victory, but in playing his 200th somewhat under duress, Sunday wasn’t’ much an example of Fifita’s ability but rather of his character in pushing through for his team when times are tough.