The Parramatta Eels have strengthened their Premiership credentials with a convincing rout of an under-strength Cronulla Sharks side, heaping pain on the men from the Shire in a second-half blowout, finishing the match 28-4.
It was a game that might have gone differently, had the football gods focused their gaze one way over another.
Unfortunately for Cronulla, their woes began early, when Sione Katoa was carted off the field in the 23rd minute.
Wade Graham, Briton Nikora, and Will Kennedy all failed head injury assessments throughout the first half, leaving the Sharks with just 13 men to compete against Parramatta.
The Eels were not without tribulations of their own, with Mitch Moses also failing to rejoin the game after the break – the halfback suffering from a head knock of his own.
Before the game descended into injury chaos, there was a real tussle going on at Bankwest Stadium.
In fact, it was the Cronulla Sharks who would open the scoring on enemy territory, Sione Katoa crossing the white stripe in the sixth minute.
The lead would not be held for long, with Blake Ferguson showing once again that last year’s drought may have just been a blip in his try-scoring career.
Despite the Sharks’ valiant efforts, this was as close as the two teams would be for the rest of the game.
After the opening blows struck by each team, the injuries began to rack up.
First, it was the try-scorer Katoa, who seemed to suffer an MCL injury in a tackle by Mitch Moses.
He instantly clutched the left knee and had to be carried from the field.
This was followed by Moses, Graham, Nikora, and Kennedy all suffering head injuries before the half was over.
The Sharks hurt would then increase, thanks to a Maika Sivo try, which invigorated the Western Sydney faithful but left the Sharks staring down a 6-point deficit and a half with no subs.
Nonetheless, the Sharks persevered upon the resumption of play.
While the Eels never looked in particular danger of losing hold of their lead, the Sharks forwards continued to aim up in defence, with their resilience the only thing standing in the way of a Parramatta powerhouse performance.
Special mention should be made of Aaron Woods, Toby Rudolf, Aiden Tolman, and Billy Magoulis who all put in strong stints amongst fatigue and injury.
Resilience aside, the 13-man Sharks were never going to be able to go toe-to-toe with a team that is increasingly looking like Premiership contenders, especially with the abundance of injuries plaguing fellow Top 4 contenders.
The loss of Mitchell Moses in the 26th minute could have de-railed the team, however, a strong performance from Will Smith effectively plugged that hole.
While the halves did their job, it was the effervescent captain Clint Gutherson that took ownership of the team.
There was nary a set in the second half that did not include at least a touch from the man they call The King.
As you would expect from a team missing their entire bench, the valiant effort from the Sharks would not last the game.
It was around the 65th minute that the wheels really began to fall off, as the Cronulla big men started succumbing to fatigue.
It was then that their opposites in Parramatta stood up to seal the deal for the Eels.
Late efforts from Ferguson, Reagan Campbell-Gillard, and Ray Stone all resulted in tries, and, were it not for Gutherson’s sportsmanship, more pain could have been heaped upon the Sharks.
Even with a final scoreline of 28-4, there was plenty to like about Cronulla’s performance, especially from their forward pack who aim to match it with any team on any given week.
Questions will be asked however of the absent, or downright diabolical, Chad Townsend and Matt Moylan.
Surely, Cronulla fans will be checking their watch to see how long until the beloved Shaun Johnson returns.
For the Eels, another strong outing should not be mistaken for brilliance.
An under-strength Cronulla outfit is not the opponent they will face at the pointy end of the season.
Brad Arthur will hope Parramatta can spark some early attack, rather than exclusively waiting for the final quarter of the game for their points.
Still, Parramatta are looking the goods to once again claim a spot in the Top 4.
Parramatta Eels 28 (Ferguson 2, Sivo, Campbell-Gillard, Stone) def Cronulla Sharks 4 (Katoa)
NRL News Player of the Match
3 Points – Clint Gutherson (PAR)
2 Points – Nathan Brown (PAR)
1 Point – Will Smith (PAR)