Shannon Meyer reviews a rare second consecutive defeat for a Penrith side decimated by absent Origin stars for a second week.
Tries: Matt Moylan (7), Shaun Johnson (27), Ronaldo Mulitalo (36)
Goals: Shaun Johnson (8, 16 – pen, 31 – pen)
Field Goals: Shaun Johnson (78)
Tries: Matt Burton (56, 71), Izack Tago (69)
Goals: Stephen Crichton (58, 70, 75 -pen)
Player of the Year PointsEmbed from Getty Images
3 pts – Matt Burton (Penrith)
2 pts – Shaun Johnson (Cronulla)
1 pt – Liam Martin (Penrith)
MATCH REPORTEmbed from Getty Images
Another Friday night game, and another featuring a Penrith team heavily impacted by the State of Origin, with another handful of players rested this time after NSW’s big win on Wednesday night.
Cronulla opened the scoring from almost nowhere in the seventh minute. Playing the ball on their 10 metre line the Sharks went wide to the left and a Matt Moylan cut-out pass found Ronaldo Mulitalo who busted easily through two would-be Penrith tacklers and 30 metres later found Moylan in support on the inside who saw off the chasing pack for 60 metres for the first try of the night. The easy conversion gave the Sharks a 6-0 lead.
That lead extended to eight points in the 16th minute when Penrith conceded a penalty in front of the posts for an illegal steal. But it felt like more was coming as the Sharks were on top.
Penrith were gifted a penalty in good attacking position after an enterprising attacking set not long after, but a simple error from Matt Burton gave up possession early in the tackle count. Penrith’s Dylan Edwards struggled to clean up a simple grubber in the next attacking set for Cronulla but just got away with it when a chasing Shaun Johnson knocked it on first. Penrith were certainly not at their best.
Sadly Wade Graham came from the field in the 26th minute looking to suffer two separate head knocks while trying to make a tackle.
It didn’t slow down the Sharks however; they scored with the very next set and extended their lead. A standard last tackle bomb wasn’t attacked with enough vigour by Penrith as the Sharks’ Briton Nikora won the contest and the big volleyball-style bat back found Johnson who was on hand to receive the ball and score. Like the first try, the player who set up the try eventually scored it. It was 12-0 after the missed conversion.
In the next set Cronulla were gifted two points as Viliame Kikau was penalised close enough to the Panthers line for interference on the kick chase, which looked a little debatable, but regardless the lead grew to 14 points for Cronulla. More back-to-back penalties gave the Sharks more great ball and territory heading into halftime but their last tackle play let them down.
They didn’t dwell on the missed opportunity for too long as soon enough they were in for their third try of the night. The ball went left though most of the Sharks’ backline and hooker and the final pass from Will Chambers to Mulitalo was a beauty as the Sharks opened the lead to 18-0 and Mulitalo scored almost untouched.
Half-time came soon after, and the Panthers looked flat and needed a big lift, and were staring down the barrel of a second consecutive loss. At the same time the Sharks were good value for their lead.
HALF-TIME: Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks 18 Penrith Panthers 0Embed from Getty Images
Penrith came close to opening up their scoring for the night in the 47th minute through Kikau after a great lead up run by Liam Martin, but – in his charge to the line – Kikau was adjudged to have made a second movement while being tackled. A second opportunity was missed not long after when Charlie Staines was unable to gather in an Api Koroisau grubber into the corner, which looked to come off a Sharks player’s head. Despite the Panthers’ best efforts the score remained 18-0.
Another chance went by for Penrith not long after; this time Robert Jennings looked to have scored in the corner but the final pass from Kikau was judged forward. There were 15 minutes down in the second half and the score remained 18-0 to the Sharks, but Penrith were looking more dangerous if not terribly efficient at taking advantage.
With 22 minutes remaining the competition leaders finally got on the board through Burton, who simply stepped off his left 10 metres from the line which saw him avoid a few Sharks defenders and there wasn’t much of a defensive line waiting either. The makeshift five eighth made it look easy and another quick try would put Penrith right back in the contest. The conversion made it 18-6 with just over a quarter of the game to go.
A lucky bounce which led to a drop-out for the Sharks gave Penrith another great opportunity to draw even closer. But – as per the second half story – Penrith were unable to take advantage. It wasn’t all Panthers gaffes mind you; the Sharks were defending and cleaning up well.
In a rare moment of attacking highlights from the Sharks a poor last tackle grubber from Penrith saw Jack Williams runs 60 metres; although he didn’t have the pace to go all the way he set up his side with great territory and a full set. It didn’t lead to points however. And the Panthers were back on the attack with the very next set.
After shuffling the ball to either side, a play that seemed to be going nowhere ended in a second Penrith try as Burton put in a deft grubber kick into empty space and a chasing Izak Tago was there at the right place and time to grab the ball and score easily. The conversion from close to the posts made it 18-12, and Penrith were looking very dangerous.
Burton was the star again with the very next set as he crossed for his second try of the evening with another step that sucked in the Sharks defenders. The five eighth did it easy in the end but a great attacking set gave the Panthers the great position, allowing Burton to weave his magic. Crichton missed the conversion which saw Cronulla hold onto a slim 18-16 lead with under 10 minutes to go.
Crichton got a chance for redemption in the next set as the Panthers won a penalty after a high tackle from Johnson of all people. Now the scores were deadlocked at 18-18 and Penrith had all the momentum. They had again run the length of the field from their attacking set.
Penrith blew a chance with minutes to spare to score the match-winning try when a short-side play broke down after the Penrith players threw that towards the sideline official rather than a team mate. That gave the Sharks the ball and a good chance of sealing the game.
And seal they game they did with the next set and a minute from full time as Johnson nailed a field goal from 35 metres with a minute and 10 seconds to spare. It was an unattractive yet efficient kick. The Sharks halfback had a hand in the lead up with a half break and offload down the right side.Embed from Getty Images
The final minute saw the usual amount of world’s worst cramp ever as the Sharks claimed the short kick-off and survived that minute to seal a win against one of the best teams in rugby league over the past two years.
Although Penrith blew enough chances to win the game, Cronulla certainly were worthy winners having done the hard work in holding off Penrith when they were at their most dominant. The Panthers will now be having a look over their shoulder ladder position-wise and will have to wonder how much damage the State of Origin series will cause their entertaining, dominant side.
It ended up a decent contest, but looking at the missing Penrith players for the second week in a row one does have to wonder whether there was a better way to incorporate the massive State of Origin series. The interstate rivalry understandably takes centre stage of the public’s attention, but should the bread and butter of the weekly NRL competition take such a back seat while Origin is on? Unavailable players before, rested players after, people want to see the stars and best teams at their best every week and shouldn’t have to accept mediocrity for a portion of the competition every season.
FULL-TIME: Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks 19 Penrith Panthers 18
Wade Graham (Sharks) – knee
Match Review Committee
Api Koroisau (Panthers) – Grade 1 Tripping – Early Guilty Plea $1,150 fine, Guilty at Judiciary $1,500 fine.