It was a game with two very different halves of football. In period 1, the Cronulla Sharks were doing everything right. They were ferocious in defence, really muscling up against the usually physical Bulldogs and the Sharks did all the little things right. They looked totally enthused.
On the back of their 9th minute try and 3 penalty conversions, the Sharks at 12-0 looked like they would coast it in against the tired looking Bulldogs.
In almost identical fashion to the Souths v Melbourne game last night, the Bulldogs came out of the sheds after half time and threw everything back at the Sharks.
While Paul Gallen and Greg Bird were dynamic early for the Sharks, now it was the Bulldogs turn. Steve Folkes replaced Sonny Bill Williams and Mark O’Meley with Jarred Hickey and Nick Kouparitsas – the change worked well. The lively Hickey was buzzing around the ruck and causing problems for the Sharks, and Kouparitsas pulled off one of the plays of the game – when he shoulder charged Reece Williams big time, spewing the ball out and getting possession for the Dogs.
Cronulla had marked SBW so well, everytime he got the ball – 3 Sharks would swarm. When SBW was replaced, it was like Cronulla didn’t know what to do. Suddenly the replacements were getting the line breaks for the Dogs and Cronulla had no answer.
The praise for the Bulldogs must go to Luke Patten, Cameron Phelps and the replacement forwards. The usual suspects of Sherwin, Mason and SBW – weren’t the powerhouses today and really the Dogs were lucky to win.
Cronulla have achieved great brick wall like defence under Ricky Stuart but the Sharks cannot score points. 1 try in 80 minutes of NRL is no where near enough. De Gois was a good choice to start at dummy half and proved a solid platform for the Sharks side and Bird/Gallen continue to get better every week – it might be that they don’t have enough pace out wide. Luke Covell is a safe winger and kicks plenty of points, but the former Tiger really only trots at Clydesdale pace and is no where near the likes of NRL greyhounds Merritt, Hayne and Hicks.
Covell did get injured late and a change me be required for the Sharks out wide – the difference will be interesting.
The other talking point to come out of todays game was the performance of referee Shane Hayne. This could be close to the worst referee performance of 2007. Maybe Hayne was trying to keep up with Steve ‘Terminator’ Clarke?
Hayne missed blatant knock-ons (O’Meley on the try line), marker interference twice (Watts on one occasion and Pommeroy on the other), professional foul / penalty try to Dogs (Gallen taking Patten out) and calling held too early which may have cost the Sharks the game (Stapleton when tacklers fell off him and he continued).
These aren’t 50/50 calls – they were seriously obvious mistakes. No one’s perfect, but really Hayne should spend time in reserve grade after this shocker.
The NRL Table is really getting interesting now, prior to tomorrow nights Eels v Knights clash – the Bulldogs now join the Top 8 and the Sharks are in danger territory – with plenty of teams around the 14/16 points mark. The Sharks also have some tough games in the 3 weeks ahead. Apart from an easy game against the Roosters, the Sharks have some big names to face in weeks 2 and 3.
So after round 17, the big movers are the Bulldogs and the Broncos – both locking into the Top 8 as they race up the NRL Table in 2007