A Sharks side reduced to 12-men for the majority of the second half have gone down to the Wests Magpies in the Matthews Cup Grand Final.
The Sharks were trailing 18-6 in the opening moments of the second half when captain Chevy Stewart was sent from the field, the referee reacted to something the fullback had said while his team was defending, with the Magpies then running away for a 42-16 victory.
It was a disappointing end to an outstanding season from the under-17 Sharks who had won their way through to the Grand Final with the best defensive record of any team in the competition and after beating the Sydney Roosters the week prior.
After the Magpies had posted first points courtesy of a penalty goal, the Sharks managed to cross for the opening try, Kurt Montgomery pouncing on a loose ball after the opposition fullback had fumbled an Ashton Simmonds bomb.
Stewart kicked the conversion from near touch and the Sharks had a 6-0 lead 10 minutes into the match.
They then had a chance to extend their advantage, only for Montgomery to be bundled over the touchline and the Magpies would make the Sharks pay for the lost opportunity, a try to Wests winger Tajh Colquhoun levelling the scores at 6-apiece.
Now with their tails up and with the Sharks committing uncharacteristic errors, the Wests side marched back down field and into an attacking position, lock Kit Laulilii putting his team in front with a try adjacent to the posts and following the successful conversion it was 12-6 to the Magpies.
Returning the favour after conceding a try with a dropped bomb, the Magpies would capitalise on a mistake at the back from the Sharks, the try and extra two points sending the teams to half time with Wests leading 18-6.
Looking to ramp up their intensity, whatever Stewart said was too much for the referee who reduced the Sharks to 12-men only two-minutes after the break, leaving the young Cronulla side with a big mountain to climb if they wanted to fight their way back into the contest.
With arguably one of the Sharks best now missing the Magpies would take advantage, a penalty goal, then a try shortly after pushing the score out to 24-6.
Still competing hard the Sharks managed to earn some field position and it was five eighth Simmonds stepping his way through to narrow the margin to 14-points, but that would be as close as the Cronulla team would get.
Enjoying a glut of possession and with the one-way overlap, the Magpies crossed for three more tries, with Simmonds closing out the scoring with a smart four-pointer in the closing moments.
Despite the loss the Sharks were encouraged by coach Brad Kelly after the game to remain positive and be proud of their efforts during the year in winning their way through to the competition deciding match.
While the Sharks certainly didn’t save their best for last, uncharacteristic errors and a penalty count which weighted heavily in favour of their opposition, they still had a number of strong performers on the day.
Forward Max McCarthy, after starting on the edge then moving into the middle, played all 60-minutes and was tireless in his work in both attack and defence.
Simmonds was dangerous when he had attacking opportunity and kicked intelligently, with both centres in Richard Whalebone, who was also forced to shift to fullback in Stewart’s absence, and Albert LItisoni, safe defensively and a handful with ball in hand.
Ashton Simmonds 2, Kurt Montgomery tries, Bryce Sait, Chevy Stewart goals
WESTS MAGPIES 42