The Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks are back in the top eight after a dominant performance against the South Sydney Rabbitohs on Saturday night.
It was a must-win game for the 10th-placed Sharks as they took on the South Sydney Rabbitohs – who are sitting comfortably in the top four. Losses to the Warriors, Broncos and Panthers earlier in the round gave the Sharks an opportunity to move inside the top eight with a win.
The Sharks fielded a full-strength team, aside from the late withdrawal of Sosaia Feki, while the Rabbitohs welcomed back their inspirational leader Sam Burgess.
The Sharks’ starts have been their Achilles heel, however they started the game with a bang, completing highly and with a penalty goal and a couple of converted tries within the first 23 minutes. The Rabbitohs hit back with tries to Dane Gagai and Cameron Murray within three minutes.
The Sharks regained their composure in the last 10 minutes before halftime, leading 24-12 at the break with a mixture of opposition errors and attacking brilliance.
The early stages of the second half was an arm wrestle. The first try to the Sharks came part way through the second half with a good move involving Wade Graham, Josh Morris and Bronson Xerri on the left side. An exchange of tries from both sides, and a Chad Townsend field goal in the dying seconds, led to a final score of 39-24, which reflected the Sharks’ dominant performance.
Graham Makes a Difference
Co-captain Wade Graham made another triumphant return for the Sharks, playing his fourth game of the year. Graham was potent in attack on the Sharks’ left side, with three try assists and the ability to put pressure on the Souths defence. His defensive workload was also high, with a running battle with Sam Burgess that he got the better of.
Burgess in Trouble
In his first game back from injury, Sam Burgess struggled to make an impact. To start, he was placed on report for a high shot on Matt Moylan in the fourth minute. With his poor judiciary record, he could be in trouble if cited by the match review committee. After that incident his confidence may have been affected, as he struggled to get into the game, running for only 40 metres.
Sharks Back in the Eight
With a near full-strength team, the Sharks are back into the top eight. With just five matches remaining, their position is now in their own hands. If they aim for a consistent finish to the season, they should find themselves playing finals football.
Dangerous at Full Strength
Wade Graham makes a huge difference to the Sharks. His leadership and silky skills give Cronulla another attacking weapon. It was evident that at full strength the Sharks have a lot of points in them. If they can get their defence right and are able to control the ball and their discipline, they could still be a threat in 2019.
Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks 39
Tries: Bronson Xerri (2), Ronaldo Mulitalo, Josh Dugan, Josh Morris, Briton Nikora
Goals: Shaun Johnson 7/7
Field Goals: Chad Townsend
South Sydney Rabbitohs 24
Tries: Dane Gagai, Cameron Murray, Cody Walker, Campbell Graham
Goals: Adam Reynolds 4/4
Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks: 1. Matt Moylan, 20. Ronaldo Mulitalo, 3. Bronson Xerri, 4. Josh Dugan, 5. Josh Morris, 6. Shaun Johnson, 7. Chad Townsend, 8. Aaron Woods, 9. Jayden Brailey, 10. Matt Prior, 11. Briton Nikora, 12. Wade Graham, 13. Paul Gallen. Interchange: 14. Kurt Capewell, 15. Jack Williams, 16. Andrew Fifita, 17. Braden Hamlin-Uele .
South Sydney Rabbitohs: 1. Adam Doueihi, 2. Dane Gagai, 3. James Roberts, 4. Braidon Burns, 5. Campbell Graham, 6. Cody Walker, 7. Adam Reynolds, 8. Tevita Tatola, 9. Damien Cook, 10. Thomas Burgess, 11. John Sutton, 12. Sam Burgess, 13. Cameron Murray. Interchange: 14. Liam Knight, 15. Mark Nicholls, 16. Ethan Lowe, 17. Kyle Turner.