While some will blame the wet, stormy conditions – the quality of the Sharks, Panthers match was well down on other NRL games this weekend. The Sharks eventually getting home 18-10 in an ugly affair.Â
To confirm, this was an ugly affair.
The Sharks usual rock solid defence was evident, and while at their grinding best – the added sprinkle of Trent Barrett and Anthony Toupu proved the difference. Both new faces starring and getting their side the attacking points they needed to win.
A vocal and ultimately brave crowd of over 10,000 were on hand at Shark Park – braving super heavy rain and limited vision and their new look side didn’t disappoint. It might not have been pretty, but it was totally effective.
As the torrid weather set in, both sides seemed reluctant to play wet weather football. Showing some impatience and little respect for possession as ball was constantly turned over.
The insertion of Barrett was ideal for Cronulla. His style seems to suit the side even more than Brett Kimmorley, as he integrates and directs without overplaying his hand. The former Dragon scoring early, sliding through to collect a Brett Kearney grubber under the sticks.
The key recruit at five-eighth nailed a mammoth early 40/20 kick and was heavily involved, also laying on the late try through Gallen who flicked nicely to a soaring Toupu.
The grinding win wasn’t always pretty, but the patches of quality will make coach Ricky Stuart happy. On the flip side, injuries to Brett Kearney and Ben Ross will test depth early on at the club.
Both were carried from the field and will miss several weeks, Kearney’s constant injuries might soon earn him a spot on the most injured, talented list – joining names such as Brett Papworth, Brad Clyde, Dave Woods and more recently Jason Ryles.
The Sharks had new faces at the back in debutant Blake Ferguson (a relative of Solomon Haumono) and fringe player Misi Taulapapa. Both players having an off-night with their hands, putting the team under defensive pressure.
But for the Panthers, it was probably a case of Groundhog Day.
While some old faces have left, the remaining group still continued to give away silly penalties and cough up the ball at crucial times. The frustration felt by coach Matt Elliott summed up as rookie Coote put in an attacking grubber on tackle 2 only to see the ball run dead.
The Panthers rarely tested the new look Sharks, Penrith’s job made harder by several kicks going out on the full and ill-fated last tackle plays that led to a dead end.
As with last year, the stand out was dynamo Michael Jennings. The outside back remains a serious force and showed once again how quickly he can carve up staggered opposition defence lines. The fleet footed Jennings exploding into a small gap and cutting back twice on a fast swerve to score untouched.
Imagine how many tries Jennings would get if the Panthers backline could get some decent service?
The other positive for the Panthers was hooker Paul Aiton, the creative hooker constantly enthusiastic and threatening when he took on the markers. Stand in five-eighth Luke Lewis did an admirable job and was solid for the most part.
Cronulla coach Ricky Stuart showed extreme concern for the injured Ross, with doctors believing he has a damaged spine, just below the neck. “It does not look good,” said Stuart.
The pain for Ross apparently quite severe, continuing to discomfort well after the match.
Stuart wasn’t getting carried away with the win, the coach confirming only the defence and the fact he got 2 points were the important points.
“I have seen some ugly games of football but I don’t think I have seen any uglier,” said Stuart.
“It was not just the amount of ball we dropped but where we dropped it. You would expect under eights and under nines to do that and you’d still be dirty on them.
“But I’ve always said I’ll take an ugly win instead of an attractive loss.”
Even Barrett was realistic about the Sharks’ chances in 2009, saying while the win was good – they have a long way to go, if they want to be a serious force.
“We did make it hard for ourselves,” he said.
“I’m confident the team can defend anyway. I found that out.”
Matthew Elliott too was realistic about his side, while happy with some defence periods – he was dumbfounded at some attacking choices.
More concerning was their performance in the 2nd half, but the Panthers coach conceded he did have several rookies in the side – which makes it harder to control the plays.
“But you get that with a young team and we lost our way in the second half.
“We have a very talented team of young guys and we have plenty of improvement in us.”