The Sharks made it 11 wins in a row as they downed a resilient Warriors side by a field goal in golden point.
Penalty Try controversy
The result of the game didn’t come without its controversy as Jayson Bukuya was awarded a penalty try after Simon Mannering interfered with him in the chase to the ball in-goal. While Bukuya was no guarantee to score, the bunker had ruled that had Mannering not interfered then he would likely have scored and awarded a penalty try.
Warriors captain Ryan Hoffman blew up at the decision and he had every right to. He argued that there had been other instances this year where a player interfered with a player in the act of scoring a try and they had merely got sin binned instead of having a penalty try awarded. Just last week Ken Maumalo had denied Roosters winger Joseph Manu a chance at contesting the ball and was sin binned. Earlier in the year Richie Kennar from the Storm was binned for holding back Chris Lawrence who looked a better chance to get to the ball in that game than what Bukuya did on Saturday.
Whether this was a case of inconsistency from the bunker or if prior decisions made were actually the wrong calls it’s hard to say it cost the Warriors the game. It played a part in the final result but had Mannering been sin binned then the Sharks could have piled on the points against a defensive line with 12 men so a different decision probably would have produced a very different game. Whatever the case it’ll be interesting to see which they go next time a potential penalty try is sent up to the bunker.
Mystifying bench choice
In an odd change to the team-list pre-game Tuimoala Lolohea was shifted to the bench with David Fusitua going to fullback and Jono Wright coming in on the wing. Coach Andrew McFadden stated there were areas of Lolohea’s game that needed fixing and he felt the team was better served defensively by shifting Fusitua to the back. It seemed a fair enough call to simply swap positions but benching Lolohea was certainly a questionable one. Jono Wright put in a decent effort on the wing, scoring one try but also bombing one and making a few defensive blunders which saw him get benched in the 62nd minute. A winger being sent to the interchange has to be one of the greatest insults in Rugby League but in the context of the game you reap what you sow and Wright sealed his own fate.
It’s hard to tell what McFadden will do from here on out. He’s defended his decision and stood by it but on the other hand it wouldn’t be a very good look to come out and admit he got it wrong. Whatever issues in defence Lolohea may have, he is a very talented, versatile young player and surely any Warriors fan would tell you they’re a better side with him in the backline.
Up Up Cronulla
It was far from the most convincing or prettiest of wins but once again the Sharks found a way to prevail and jump 2 points clear ahead of the Melbourne Storm to hold sole ownership of the top of the ladder. After another slow start similar to their game against the Bulldogs the Sharks found themselves down 10-0 in the opening 30 minutes. A couple of quick tries to Ennis and Leutele somehow saw them take the lead 12-10 going into the half-time break. The fortuitous penalty try ruling was the only four pointer they could manage in the second half but their defence held strong and came away with the narrowest of victories for their 11th straight win.
In the form the Sharks are in, belief is starting to build within the team that they are working towards something special and that they’re capable of achieving it. They’ve won games where they’ve dominated the opposition and they’ve won ugly where the game was neck and neck. That ability to win while playing below your best is crucial to the Sharks continuing their run and ensuring a Top 2 finish. It’s too early to call anything but there’ll be a few people in the Shire that will have started leaving their porch lights on for Harold Holt.
Warriors can hold their heads up high
They didn’t win the game but the Warriors should take a lot of positives out of the game instead of letting the narrow loss dampen their spirits. They pushed the current ladder leaders to their limits and the effort in defence they had shown against the Roosters was retained in this game. Simon Mannering was an absolute tackling machine racking up a tally of 67 while fellow back-rower Bodene Thompson was impressive in attack and defence notching up 6 tackle breaks and 118 metres with 47 tackles.
With the possession split at 50% and a high completion rate of 82% there was only a James Maloney field goal to separate the two teams at the end of 80 minutes. To come so close yet so far from toppling the ladder leaders would be disheartening but knowing that they could match it with the best in the competition should give them some confidence heading into a home game next week against the Titans. They only sit one win outside the Top 8 and if they keep building on the consistency they’re starting to show they’ll give themselves a good shot at making a return to the finals.
In The Sheds
Valentine Holmes went off with a hamstring injury at the 61st minute. The club will await scans before they rule him out for any period of time.
Cronulla Sharks– 19
Tries: Michael Ennis (34m), Ricky Leutele (39m), Jayson Bukuya (48m)
Goals: James Maloney 3/3
Field Goals: James Maloney (87m)
New Zealand Warriors– 18
Tries: Blake Ayshford (22m), Jonathan Wright (28m), Thomas Leuluai (58m)
Goals: Issac Luke 3/4