Still fight left in the 'old dog'

What were the big moments, the game changers, the points of interest to come from the Sharks v Cowboys clash. Here’s what we thought

1 Still fight in the old dog
Some 19 seasons and now 341 games into his NRL career, Sharks skipper Paul Gallen turned back the clock in showing there is plenty of fight left in the old dog.

Facing the task of coming up against arguably the best middle forward it the game today in Jason Taumalolo, Gallen took the challenge personally, before coming out on top and helping to inspire the Sharks to a come-from-behind win.

Gallen got through 62 minutes, that coming against one of the biggest and most physical packs in the NRL competition, running for a game high 236 metres, 70 of those coming post-contact, in addition to making 37 tackles.

With the game on the line late in the match he was pitched back into battle by coach John Morris and his level head and north-south running, straightening the Sharks attack and getting them going forward, was instrumental in guiding his team to victory.

It was a captain’s knock and without it the night might not have finished as well as it did for the Cronulla side.

 

2 And another youngster performs on the big stage
While applauding the performance of the captain, also more than worthy of mention were the efforts of the Sharks sixth debutant for 2019 in lock Billy Magoulias.

Coming onto the field in the first half Magoulias ripped straight in, his habit of carrying the ball in two hands a good one, as he kept the momentum rolling in the Sharks favour.

In 28 minutes of game time the Mascot Jets and Cronulla Caringbah junior got through his work, which included 23 effective tackles and just one miss, in addition to nine strong carries and a neat passing game.

He did all that was asked of him in a debut game, indicating many more top-grade appearances to come.

And while on the subject of the Sharks youngsters, outside back Ronaldo Mulitalo had fans and commentators buzzing with an impressive display on the left flank, one which included a smart try, fearless running and a high work rate.

Two more young players performing on the big stage is another tick for the Sharks junior development program and for the club’s future prospects.

3 Hold the ball, good things happen
It wasn’t perfect, but it was certainly an improvement, with the Sharks 78 per cent completion rate and only six penalties conceded a major factor in their win over the North Queensland side.

With more ball, 55 per cent of it on the night, the Sharks were able to build pressure and control field position and while they left it late, a couple of Cowboy injuries and the defensive workload eventually took its toll.

Its not all about the numbers, running hard, tackling hard and taking the opportunities when they present is possibly more important, but what the stats do show is if you hold the ball good things often happen.

 

4 Johnson quietens the critics
It takes a lot to silence them, them being sections of the media and the social media trolls, however with one of his more complete performances in Sharks colours Shaun Johnson at least turned down the volume on his critics with a man-of-the-match effort at PointsBet Stadium last night.

Johnson ran the ball, set up two tries with clever passes and probably should have had another assist when Mulitalo was called back for what was judged to be a forward pass, but it was his control in good ball, as the coach calls it, which probably helped set up the win.

Good ball, being inside the opposition area of the field, has been something Johnson has seen little of in recent weeks, as explained by John Morris the Sharks had just two tackles in the Warriors 20-metre zone in Wellington and only eight or nine the week before, making it near impossible for the playmakers to shine.

This time around Johnson was able to play on the front foot, kick for repeat sets, create for his outside men have a major influence on the result.

You’re only as good as your last game, or is it your next game, but however the saying goes Johnson was on song against the Cowboys and will be looking for more of the same on Saturday night against Souths.

 

5 The next one the most important
Along the same theme as the above and while the win on Thursday night was crucial, the two points edging the Sharks back towards a spot in the top eight will count for little if they can’t continue the roll when they host the Rabbitohs next weekend.

The Sharks were understandably thrilled to get the win, their first since dominating the Eels in round 13, but the excitement was tempered by the fact that each week now is vitally important in the race to the finals.

One slip up and maybe they can still qualify for the playoffs, two and their summer holidays will more than likely come early, which was a point stressed by Gallen, the coach and agreed upon by the playing group after the win.

Behind by 10 with 15 minutes to go, it was a character-building backs-to-the-wall win but a victory the Sharks will need to put behind them before going again and turning in a similar effort when Souths come to the Shire on Saturday.