The Cronulla Sharks have weathered a slow start in the ACT to eventually run-down the Canberra Raiders 36-24 tonight at a bitterly cold and wet Canberra Stadium, sending the Sharks into a 3-way tie at the top of the NRL table.
The Raiders flew out of the gates as they generally do on home soil – quickly setting up a 12-0 lead within 15 minutes, but the Sharks rose to life and quickly got back into the contest in the latter stages of the first half with 3 touchdowns in the space of 7 minutes, and took it up a notch in the 2nd half.
The Raiders did look composed at the start of the 2nd period, looking to chip away at the 18-6 halftime deficit, and they went extremely close to getting over the Sharks line through Brett Kelly, but that rock solid Cronulla defence reigned – letting virtually nothing through, and soon after the locals had their hearts broken with a 60 metre movement from the following set.
Issac De Gois shot out of dummy half and linked with Brett Seymour in space, who in turn sent Brett Kimmorley surging up over the half way line and into space.
It looked as though the play would break down as the Raiders defence converged, but the former Test half produced a perfectly weighted kick into the in-goal and David Simmons won the race to open the second half scoring in the 58th minute.
Luke Covell added the extras, extending the Sharks lead to 24-12 and setting the home side a huge mountain to climb with 20 minutes left to play.
The Raiders refused to shirk the task, and hit almost immediately through Ryan Hinchcliffe, with Todd Carney’s conversion cutting the margin to just a converted try.
But the Sharks countered with another piece of magic three minutes later when Covell plucked a Kimmorley cross-kick out the air and touched down despite heavy attention from the Raiders’ Bronx Goodwin.
Kimmorley then engineered another stunning four-pointer with an impressive grubber and regather, before putting it through the hands for Ben Pomeroy to finishing off, with Covell’s sideline conversion capping a stellar 6 from 6 with the boot.
Raiders fullback David Milne added a consolation four-pointer for the Raiders in the 77th minute to round out the scoring.
The visitors put themselves under the hammer from the outset when Ben Pomeroy knocked on with the Sharks first possession of the match, and they eventually cracked despite a spirited defensive effort.
Canberra manufactured three consecutive sets at the Sharks line, and a brilliant floating offload in traffic from Raiders prop Troy Thompson found Carney and the Raiders were over.
The rising Raiders half converted his own four-pointer and the home side had a 6-nil lead.
Carney was instrumental in extending Canberra’s lead five minutes later, but some poor Sharks defence was also to blame.
Canberra again peppered the Sharks line, and Carney delivered a sharp cutout pass to Goodwin on the right wing, who stood up Covell pointlessly to go over in the corner.
Carney then hit a bullet-like conversion from the touchline to put the Raiders 12-nil up inside the opening 15 minutes.
The Raiders talisman was doing the job at both ends, producing a booming 40-20 (that in effect, was more like a 30-10) to give the Raiders more attacking ball.
The youngster then showed that he is human after all, spilling the ball as he attacked the Sharks line to give the visitors some much-needed respite.
It was at this point, that fans at Canberra Stadium witnessed a momentum shift of gargantuan proportions.
A cleverly worked set play finished off by Covell in the 23rd minute gave the Sharks their opening points in the 23rd minute, but there was more to come.
A spilled ball from boom Raiders youngster Justin Carney gifted the visitors a their second try in the space if two minutes courtesy of Issac De Gois, and the Sharks were level in the blink of an eye after Covell’s conversion.
But they weren’t done yet a chargedown from Kade Snowden was regathered by David Simmonds to give the visitors more attacking ball, and prop forward Ben Ross barged over on the half-hour mark.
The Sharks made a shocking start to the second half, with a number of handling errors and needless penalties, but the visitors toughed it out in defence, and momentum started to swing back the visitors way as the injury curse that has plagued the Raiders in 2008 struck again.
Injuries coming out of the Monday Night game were; Joe Picker (corked thigh) and Alan Tongue (ribs) and Glenn Turner for the duration of the contest.
After the finish of Round 16, the NRL Ladder and Table now sits as follows;