The Sharks have made it three straight wins for the first time since 2005 tonight at Toyota Stadium, grinding out an ugly 24-8 win over a committed, but poorly organised Warriors side.
The match wasn’t without incident, and it will be a nervous couple of days for two Origin stars, with Paul Gallen and Brent Tate both likely to come under scrutiny from the match review committee.
NSW backrower Gallen was warned for kneeing by referee Ben Cummins after Cronulla’s opening try to David Simmons in the 28th minute and told to watch his behavior.
“Be careful with your knees in the ruck, the tackle was complete,” Cummins told Gallen.
“He just said to me to get my knees out of the ruck because I was leaning in and trying to slow the play-the-ball,” said Gallen when asked about the incident.
Queensland star Tate was penalised for a high tackle on Greg Bird in the 17th minute, but the incident was not placed on report.
The kiwis enjoyed the benefit of a howling breeze at their backs in the opening stanza, but only led 8-6 at half time, and the Sharks surged home with three unanswered second half four-pointers to run out winners.
Ineffective attack from both sides left the game in the balance until the 57th minute, when unwanted half Brett Kimmorley stepped up to engineer a decisive four-pointer for the Sharks.
A pin-point Kimmorley bomb was taken by a leaping David Simmons to give the home side the lead, and it was duly converted by converted by Luke Covell to give the Sharks a four-point advantage, before the home side committed rugby league suicide, knocking on from the re-start.
Some desperate defence prevented the Warriors from hitting back immediately, and the Sharks gave themselves some breathing space in the 69th minute when another perfectly executed bomb, this time from Brett Seymour, was plucked out of the air by Covell to make it 16-8.
The lanky winger converted his four-pointer from the touchline to make it 18-8 and effectively end the contest.
Ben Pomeroy made it a quartet of tries off kicks for the home side when he crossed in the shadows of full time, with Covell’s conversion rounding out the scoring for the evening.
The visitors dodged a couple of bullets early when the Sharks had two tries in the space of 3 minutes called back for knock-ons in the lead up, but despite dominating the early field position, the home side couldn’t crack the opposition line.
Both teams were held scoreless in the opening 20 minutes for the first time this season, but it wasn’t through a lack of opportunities for either side, more a lack of execution.
The Warriors were defending strongly in the early exchanges, and showed admirable desperation to deny a surging Fraser Anderson, but a schoolboy error resulted in the Sharks registering the opening points.
The visitors turned the ball over on tackle one by passing after Cummins had called held, and the Sharks made them pay when Simmons won the race to a well executed grubber from Seymour to open the scoring in the 29th minute.
Covell was unable to add the extras from the touchline, leaving the Sharks four points in front on the half hour mark.
But the home side’s lead was to be short lived, after they shot themselves in the foot from the kickoff with a forward pass.
From the resulting attacking set Jerome Ropati powered his way over to square ledger, with Lance Hohaia nailing the extras to give the visitors a 6-4 lead after 33 minutes.
The Sharks continued to give away needless penalties in the lead up to the break, sloppy marker defence saw prop Danny Nutley penalised, gifting Hohaia a penalty goal in the 38th minute, extending the Kiwis lead to 8-4.
The home side were lucky not to be much further behind after completing a paltry 9 of their 19 first half sets, but were able to draw to within two points via a Covell penalty on the stroke of half time, after the Warriors themselves infringed at marker.
CRONULLA 24 (D Simmons 2 L Covell B Pomeroy tries L Covell 4 goals) bt NZ WARRIORS 8 (J Ropati try L Hohaia 2 goals) at Toyota Stadium. Referee: B Cummins. Crowd: 9,023.