Cronulla’s 30-18 win over Canterbury at ANZ Stadium secured them a top 4 finish, and created history at the same time with the top four-placed teams finishing on the same competition points for the first time in the 111-year history of the premiership.
It was another high-class performance from in-form fullback Valentine Holmes, who scored a double which helped the Sharks stave off a gutsy Bulldogs outfit.
The Bulldogs fought hard and brought themselves back into the game after being down 16 – 2 early in the first half. But the class of Holmes, Andrew Fifita, Chad Townsend and Josh Dugan helped Cronulla to a vital win over the Bulldogs in Brett and Josh Morris, Greg Eastwood and Matt Frawley’s final game for the club.
Holmes was best on field with a four-pointer and three try assists, creating two of those for left-side winger Sosaia Feki. The Sharks started slowly conceding an error and a penalty from the opening two plays of the game to hand Canterbury a two-point head start but went on to dominate the next 20 minutes, posting three unanswered tries.
Some nice play on the left resulted in Kurt Capewell crossing for the game’s first four-pointer in the 12th minute and some sustained pressure shortly after resulted in Fifita crossing despite a hint of an obstruction from Luke Lewis.
The Sharks were on a roll when Dugan sprinted through on an attacking Chad Townsend grubber to make is 16-2 after 22 minutes before the Bulldogs fightback started. A long-range Josh Morris break culminated in Will Hopoate powering through three defenders to score, followed by another long-range break from Hopoate helping the dogs attack again, before some smart work from Michael Lichaa to take the quick tap from a penalty 11 metres out and bump away from Jayden Brailey to score closed the gap to 16-12.
However, just before the break, Brett Morris failed to control a tough bomb under pressure to hand the Sharks a full set at the line and Feki tiptoed down the sideline moments later to earn his team a 20-12 lead at the break.
Not long after the break, Holmes carved through Canterbury’s brittle right edge in the 46th minute to cross over for his 21st try. The Bulldogs hit back through Brett Morris, who was on the end of a lovely lobbed pass over the top from Hopoate, who was Canterbury’s best on the day with a try, try assist, eight busts and 207 metres.
A Bulldogs error near halfway then helped Cronulla hit straight back, as Holmes again showed up the Dogs right side defence with a well-worked scrum play for Feki’s second try.
That made it 30-18 with just over 20 minutes to play and it ended up being the final score as both teams struggled to make anything of their attacking chances in the final stages.
Bulldogs future looking bright
The Bulldogs can be encouraged by a bright finish to their season with the emergence of some future stars and impressive wins over the Dragons, Warriors and Broncos.
The Sharks poised for finals assault
The Sharks move on to a qualifying final against the Roosters next week with the winner earning a week off and a ticket to a grand final qualifier.
Valentine Holmes is the key for Sharks success
Holmes scored a try and set up three others, in a performance that had Bulldogs coach Dean Pay comparing him to champion fullback Billy Slater “..he’s up there with the top players in the competition”, Pay said after the match.
Closest competition in history
Only 2 points separated minor premiers Sydney Roosters from the Warriors who finished in eighth spot. The 2018 premiership is open with no standout team, though the Sharks come into the finals on a 4 game winning streak.
Canterbury Bulldogs 18
Tries: Will Hopoate 26′, Michael Lichaa 35′, Brett Morris 52′
Goals: Rhyse Martin 2/3, Penalty 1/1
Cronulla Sharks 30
Tries: Kurt Capewell 11′, Andrew Fifita 16′, Josh Dugan 21′, Sosaia Feki 39′, Valentine Holmes 45′, Sosaia Feki 55′
Goals: Valentine Holmes 3/6
1 Will Hopoate, 2 Brett Morris, 3 Josh Morris, 4 Kerrod Holland, 5 Reimis Smith, 6 Lachlan Lewis, 7 Matt Frawley, 8 Aiden Tolman, 9 Michael Lichaa, 10 David Klemmer, 11 Josh Jackson (c), 12 Rhyse Martin, 13 Adam Elliott Interchange: 14 Jeremy Marshall-King, 15 Danny Fualalo, 16 Ofahiki Ogden, 17 Greg Eastwood
1 Valentine Holmes, 2 Sosaia Feki, 3 Josh Dugan, 4 Kurt Capewell, 5 Edrick Lee, 6 Matt Moylan, 7 Chad Townsend, 8 Andrew Fifita, 9 Jayden Brailey, 10 Matt Prior, 11 Luke Lewis, 12 Wade Graham, 13 Paul Gallen (c) Interchange: 14 Scott Sorensen, 15 James Segeyaro, 16 Aaron Woods, 17 Jayson Bukuya