The Sharks have kept their 2019 title hopes alive, scoring an impressive 25-8 victory over the Wests Tigers in a do-or-die clash held at Leichhardt Oval earlier today.
Displaying an defensive intensity and some classy touches with the football, the Sharks went to half time with a narrow lead, before running away with the contest in the early moments of the second period.
The day began with Robbie Farah, originally left out due to his leg injury, being thrust into the game when fullback Corey Thompson withdrew during the warm up with an achilles problem, then finished with Paul Gallen kicking a field goal, the first of his 347 game NRL career.
It was a win which now see the Sharks finish in seven position on the NRL ladder and move on to an elimination finals clash with the Manly Sea Eagles on Saturday night.
After the Tigers opened the scoring when stand in full back Paul Momirovski kicked a simple penalty goal, the Sharks had the better of the chances early, rookie Ronaldo Mulitalo denied a try by the video after some amazing skill in the lead up.
A 40-20 from Chad Townsend put the Sharks on the attack soon after and following five tackles where the Sharks primarily attacked the Tigers right, a shift to the left put Briton Nikora one on one with the defence and the youngster showed outstanding footwork to score 15 metres in from touch.
Shaun Johnson’s conversion attempt bounced off the left upright but the Sharks had a 4-2 lead at the 20 minute mark of the half.
The Tigers levelled the match with a second penalty goal, then in a game played at a fast and furious pace the only other score for the first half came as the siren was sounding, the Sharks going to the break up 6-4 after Johnson slotted a penalty goal from adjacent to the posts.
The Sharks began the second half strongly, Mulitalo making a crucial tackle to earn his side another set of six and on the end of their set a Johnson grubber was fumbled by the Tigers and Josh Morris was on the spot to ground the ball.
Morris’s 14th try of the season and the Johnson conversion pushed the score out to 12-4 five minutes into the second period.
Now with momentum running in their favour a penalty for a lifting tackle put the Sharks back on the attack and when a flick pass from Jack Williams found the mark, Townsend spread the ball to the left with Sosaia Feki touching down in the corner.
Johnson kicked the conversion from the eastern touchline and the Sharks were up 18-4 but with a mile of time left on the clock.
From the next set of six the Sharks were over again, another passing movement to the left put Bronson Xerri into space, the teenage centre poking through the line then passing for Feki to score his second, the winger having plenty to do in dashing the final 25 metres to cross.
With his radar working Johnson added another two from almost the identical spot near the sideline and with still 28 minutes to be played the Sharks led 24-4.
The Tigers managed to bridge the gap and to give the capacity crowd of 19,491 some hope of a comeback, back rower Luke Garner splitting the line and running 50-metres to score, however the conversion attempt was unsuccessful, leaving the score at 24-8 with 18 to go.
The injection of Farah into the game upped the intensity and the excitement for the home fans and the Tigers would throw caution to the wind in the next period of the game but when a try was disallowed by the video referee for an obstruction, time would run out on the Tigers season.
Adding insult to the Tigers faithful and to Gallen’s career points tally, the skipper slotted a field goal with less than a minute left in the match in completing the scoring.
The Sharks had a number of solid performers on the day, with youngster Mulitalo and Nikora outstanding on a big stage and on such an important occasion, Johnson and Townsend controlled the game professionally in there halves, while forwards Aaron Woods, Gallen, Fifita and Williams dominated in the middle of the field.
Also importantly the Sharks came through the game with no injury concerns, while they will assess Matt Moylan during the week to determine his availability for the Manly match on Saturday.
Sosaia Feki 2, Josh Morris, Briton Nikora tries, Shaun Johnson 4 goals, Paul Gallen field goal
Luke Garner try, Paul Momirovski 2 goals