They have always had the quality of players to press hard and perform well but 2016 seems to be the year that the Cronulla Sharks are gelling better than ever and it is showing on the field.
With a dominant performance over the Canberra Raiders yesterday, the Sharks have now won four on the trot and are flying high in the top four.
In a mixture of fluid attack and steely defence, the Sharks proved their mettle in every sense. There were hard-fought, set-play tries, long-range tries and determined defence, all of which kept the Raiders largely at bay.
The Sharks were simply too good on the day, as the Raiders shot themselves in the foot. Silly penalties, inopportune errors and a general lack of execution, prevented them from making any real inroads in the game.
Despite that, there was a point in which the Raiders slowly clawed their way back into the contest, after the Sharks conceded a string of penalties in the second half.
The Raiders then eventually made the most of those opportunities scoring three tries, the best of which was a try to Kurt Baptiste off a Jordan Rapana break.
Ultimately, it was not to be, as the Sharks put the nail in the coffin with some late tries of their own and handed the Raiders their second heavy defeat in a row.
The Sharks are flying high and the Raiders have some soul-searching to do.
Defence wins premierships, as everyone says, and the way his side defended pleased Sharks coach Shane Flanagan.
“Defensively we were strong and ruthless and to be able to score 40 thatâ€™s a real pleasing point,” Flanagan said.
“But that was on the back of our defence.”
Unable to pinpoint why the last two weeks have been poor, Raiders coach Ricky Stuart made no excuses for the loss.
“I havenâ€™t seen anything [different] from the Belmore game, that’s the disappointing part of it that we didnâ€™t back that [performance] up,” Stuart said.
“We had the opportunity to back that up today. There’s no excuses. There are no short-term solutions.
“We’ve got some hard work ahead of us to get out of this, there’s no easy way.
“We weren’t prepared to go into the grind and the battle with them.”
With much criticism headed his way on a regular basis, Ben Barba is putting it all behind him and continuing to perform at a high level.
“He’s getting better each week,” his coach Flanagan said.
“He was safe at the back and when there’s a try on he seems to nail it. It’s good to see him happy and playing good footy again.”
Player of the Game:
3. Ben Barba
2. Jordan Rapana
1. Paul Gallen
Cronulla Sharks 40 (Barba 2, Bird, Bukuya, Holmes, Maloney tries; Maloney 6 goals) defeated Canberra Raiders 16 (Baptiste, Rapana, Sezer; Croker 2 goals) at GIO Stadium. Crowd: 12,890.