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Graham return sparks big Sharks win

The Sharks have celebrated Wade Graham’s return to the field with a convincing 42-22 victory in front of more than 12,000 fans at PointsBet Stadium.

Graham entered the game some 30-minutes into the contest and had a number of classy touches, his combination down the left hand side with Bronson Xerri and fullback Matt Moylan, a feature of his comeback match. 

Overall it was an impressive display from the Sharks, who ran in seven tries on the night and had a handful more opportunities go begging, in what perhaps their best attacking performance of the season. 

The only one downer came in the final 15 minutes where the Sharks let down their guard and conceded three soft tries to their opponents. 

The Eels chances took a jolt in the opening moments when skipper Clint Gutherson was assisted from the field just two minutes into the game after a collision with Josh Dugan, with their issues compounded two sets of six later as the Sharks posted first points. 

After a Chad Townsend grubber kick was deflected by the Eels the Sharks half regathered, passed to Bronson Xerri, who with a big left foot step sliced through to score, running around to plant the ball down under the uprights. 

Kyle Flanagan added the extras and it was 6-0 Sharks with five minutes gone. 

A Flanagan penalty goal when the half back was knocked over late after kicking downfield made it 8-0 and their lead looked to have pushed out further when Townsend won the race to a grubber kick, only for the video referee to rule he had failed to ground the ball. 

The Sharks however wouldn't have to wait long to add to their advantage when a rampaging Andrew Fifita brushed past Mitchell Moses and Will Smith to score and with the Flanagan conversion it was 14-0. 

On the back of a string of penalties the Eels worked their way into an attacking position and after the Sharks had defended a couple of repeat sets, their opponents would eventually cross, Maika Sivo diving on a Moses kick. 

The Eels half back bounced the conversion off the upright and over the cross bar and it was 14-6 Sharks. 

More ill discipline was piggy-backing the Eels into attacking field positions but the Sharks defence again held firm and their resolve at one end would be rewarded at the other. 

Eels stand-in fullback Smith failed to gather a Townsend bomb and a quick shift to the right saw the ball go from Flanagan, to Matt Moylan, then to Briton Nikora who off-loaded for Dugan to score while the half time siren was sounding. 

Flanagan slotted the sideline conversion and the Sharks would go to the break up by 20-6. 

Sharks coach John Morris would likely have been encouraging his side to keep the foot on the throat of their opponents and that’s exactly what occurred early in the second period, a left hand side line break from Graham, Xerri and then Sosaia Feki, resulted in the winger slinging the ball inside and on the spot was Townsend who slid over out wide. 

Flanagan kept his perfect record intact with the boot and the Sharks had a match winning lead at 26-6 in front. 

Now with momentum going their way the Sharks were full of running, while the Eels were their own worst enemies, an error from the Parramatta side was picked up by Braden Hemlin-Uele, who passed to Flanagan, with the number six dashing 30 metres to score his first try in the NRL. 

Flanagan was successful with the kick at goal and it was 32-6 Sharks. 

A sixth Sharks try from another left side raid involving Graham, Xerri and Feki, saw the youngster collect the last pass, Xerri beating two would-be defenders to cross for his second of the night. 

As good as the first 65 minutes of the contest was for the Sharks, they would have been left disappointed by the final quarter of an hour, the Eels grabbing three late tries to put some respectability back into the scoreline. 

Aaron Gray would finish the scoring with a try on the full time siren, pushing the margin out to 20 as the Sharks recorded a comprehensive 42-22 win. 

As good as Graham was down in his return, he has plenty of willing helpers on the night. 

Skipper Paul Gallen got through a mountain of work in the middle of the field, Hamlin-Uele again had impact coming off the bench and Townsend continued what coach John Morris would later describe as career-best form. 

Xerri was dynamic on the left, shifting sides this week, shifting sides to be alongside Kurt Capewell then Graham, with all the forwards doing a job for Morris and making considerable contributions towards the victory. 

The Sharks now have just five days to get ready for a game against the Canberra Raiders next Thursday night.