Coming out of the blocks extremely well, the Bulldogs were over for a try inside 5 minutes – something that is very rare against the usually defensively focused Sharks. Admittedly the Cronulla side were always going to miss Trent Barrett, but that is no excuse for the poor early defence.
The thing about the Bulldogs this year, they not only have some good talent on deck – but they look like a side that simply wants to win, playing for each other and working as a unit. It’s such an important ingredient, it’s also something that you cannot buy or manufacture – it just comes when the right group of people come together.
With good possession and field position early, it wasn’t long before the Bulldogs were out to a 12-nil lead. It could have been an even greater lead, had a last ditch pass from Andrew Ryan not gone astray.
After 10 minutes of play, it looked like being all one way traffic against the Sharks side. They were giving away penalties and just looked disinterested. Their usually formidable defence was leaking and not hitting with any purpose.
But as it usually does, the possession finally started to swing. While not at their best, the Sharks deserve credit late in the first half for hussling hard for points.
They looked unlikely to get over the Bulldogs line through the hands, their attack as it has been for so long – predictable and at times too slow. But a short range chip kick from Brett Seymour gave his side a 50/50 chance at the grab, with the versatile Anthony Toupu doing enough to drag it in and wriggle to the ground to score a late try.
Going into half time at 18-6, it still seemed the Sharks were well out of it. Their forwards were getting turned away, bench player Jack Afamasaga injured for Cronulla with his first touch of the game – these guys are dead set cursed.
But they refused to fold. The dependable Paul Gallen scoring an opportunist try from dummy half early in the 2nd term to give his side every chance of winning.
Coming back to 18-12, Cronulla suddenly had a sniff and they did improve somewhat.
The game went through an arm wrestle period, but the difference was the control by the likes of Brett Kimmorley and Michael Ennis for the Bulldogs.
When you looked at the Sharks without Barrett, Seymour had too much on his plate and Corey Hughes while tough – isn’t someone who can take the onus of his halves.
As it neared the end, the usual suspects popped up to help their respective sides. Paul Gallen was there, making tackles and doing his best to conjure up something for the Sharks.
But for Canterbury, the new faces – Stagg, Eastwood and Hannant were tireless. These guys weren’t just making plenty of tackles, they were hitting hard, forcing the ball loose and showing plenty of desire.
The Sharks need to clone the likes of Gallen, because they just haven’t got enough determination or ability in their other men up front.
Stagg nearly notched up 50 tackles at the games end and Buddy Gordon got his first run in Bulldogs colours. The former Bunny has bulked up and took his place in the Bulldogs pack, his few touches were good – making metres and drawing in plenty of defenders to bring him down.
The Bulldogs again confirmed their Top 8 credentials and had they not been stripped of points, would be right at the top of the NRL Ladder.
The Sharks while again without luck, remain stuck in injury hell and looked lost for a lot of this match. With troop numbers dwindling on a weekly basis, coach Ricky Stuart will want to get Barrett back ASAP.
Cronulla will need to win most home games this season, as their fortress might be one of their few remaining assets.