The Cronulla Sharks came back from a 20-6 deficit to defeat the Penrith Panthers 24-20 at Pointsbet Stadium on Thursday night.
It was all Panthers early as they raced out to a 14-0 lead inside the first 20 minutes. Tim Grant got the Panthers on the board in the 10th minute in his first game back in Panthers colours when a James Maloney short ball put him through a gaping hole, before Nathan Cleary extended the lead when he dived on a Maloney grubber. A Cleary penalty goal four minutes later made it 14-0. A brilliant Maloney 40/20 late in the first half got Penrith back in attacking position and Josh Mansour crossed the line just before half time but it was called back due to an obstruction by Viliame Kikau.
The Sharks had all the ball in the second half and were able to reel the Panthers back in. They were the first to score in the 48th minute when Josh Dugan set up a Bronson Xerri line break and the young centre showed his electric speed to run around Dallin Watene-Zelezniak for his first try in the NRL. The Panthers were able to hit back in the 60th minute when a brilliant Cleary cut out ball set up Waqa Blake to make it 20-6, before the Sharks really took control. Four minutes later, Cronulla were in through a Chad Townsend penalty try, with Malakai Watene-Zelezniak impeding the Sharks halfback as he attempted to pick up a kick. Andrew Fifita broke through in the 72nd minute to make it 20-18 to set up a grandstand finish. It only took the Sharks the next set to take the lead, moving the ball 100 metres down the field, with Josh Dugan scoring to take the lead at 24-20 and giving the Sharks a spectacular win.
COMEBACK KIDS TASTE THEIR OWN MEDICINE
The Penrith Panthers became known as the comeback kids in 2018, and have already enjoyed one comeback victory over the Tigers in 2019, but it was the mountain men that couldn’t hold onto a 14-point lead, as the Sharks stormed home to steal victory.
The Panthers just could not get any possession in the second half, with Sharks controlling the ball with near perfection to force Penrith out of the match. The sheer amount of defence the Panthers were forced to do proved too much, running out of energy in the last 10 minutes and allowing the Sharks to run them down.
SHAUN JOHNSON TAKES OVER IN SECOND HALF
It was a tale of two halves in this match, with the Panthers controlling the entire first half, both in possession and territory, but once the Sharks were able to get more ball in the second half, their big recruit from across the ditch took control.
He was instrumental in the Sharks comeback, constantly threatening with ball in hand, particularly in the last 20 minutes. If Johnson can keep this form up, the Sharks will be a tough opponent for anyone they come up against.
PANTHERS SHOW IMPROVEMENT IN ATTACK DESPITE LOSS
It wasn’t the result they were after, but the Panthers showed a lot of improvement in their attack. Struggling to score points over the first five rounds of the season, every time they had the ball inside the Sharks 20 they always looked threatening and showed plenty of variety.
They struggled for possession in the second half and were forced to do plenty of defence, with the high amount of missed tackles still a concern, but there are still positives to take out of this match. If they can even up the possession in future games, and continue their positive attack, the wins should come.
A STAR IS BORN
James Roberts is the name that comes to mind when you think of the fastest player in the NRL, but as of tonight Bronson Xerri might have taken that title. His try early in the second half was solely down to his ridiculous speed, making Panthers fullback Dallin Watene-Zelezniak look like the slowest player on the park. We saw glimpses last week but the young centre proved tonight he will be one to watch in the future.
CRONULLA SHARKS 24
Tries: Bronson Xerri, Chad Townsend, Andrew Fifita, Josh Dugan
Goals: Chad Townsend 4/4
Tries: Tim Grant, Nathan Cleary, Waqa Blake
Goals: Nathan Cleary 4/4
CRONULLA SHARKS: 19 William Kennedy, 2 Sosaia Feki, 3 Bronson Xerri, 4 Josh Morris, 1 Josh Dugan, 6 Shaun Johnson, 7 Chad Townsend, 8 Andrew Fifita, 9 Jayden Brailey, 10 Matt Prior, 11 Briton Nikora, 12 Kurt Capewell 13 Paul Gallen Interchange: 14 Blayke Brailey, 16 Jack Williams, 17 Scott Sorensen, 20 Braden Hamlin-Uele
PENRITH PANTHERS: 1 Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, 2 Josh Mansour, 3 Dean Whare, 4 Waqa Blake, 20 Malakai Watene-Zelezniak, 6 James Maloney, 7 Nathan Cleary, 8 James Tamou, 9 Wayde Egan, 10 Tim Grant, 11 Viliame Kikau, 12 Isaah Yeo, 13 James Fisher-Harris Interchange: 14 Sione Katoa, 16 Moses Leota, 17 Reagan Campbell-Gillard, 19 Liam Martin