The Sharks were able to withstand a second half Manly ambush after disgracing the Sea Eagles in the first half, holding on for a 34-22 victory. A strange contest saw an absolute game of two halves.
To set the tone to the seventh week of the season and more importantly the Anzac round, the Cronulla Sharks faced off against the Manly Sea Eagles in a match set to draw plenty of attention.
Cronulla came off a disappointing loss to the Melbourne Storm the week prior, however, plenty of positives and confidence was sure to be gained from pushing one of the competition’s heavyweights for 60 minutes of football.
On the other side, Manly looked to build on their established winning formula, even in the absence of their superstar fullback Tom Trbojevic, which is a task that had troubled them for the past couple of seasons.
It was a far from ideal opening fifteen minutes for the Sea Eagles, with their edges looking particularly alarming.
A rare Daly Cherry-Evans mistake saw the Sharks earn a dropout in the first play of the game.
Siosifa Talakai rubbed salt into the wound, crossing over just four plays later by running through his opponent’s right edge defence untouched.
Nicho Hynes’ appeared to continue his season-long kicking struggles, failing to convert which kept the lead at just 4-0.
Continued spread to either edge of the field saw the Sharks expose Manly’s defence on repeated occasions in the 15th and 20th minutes.
Cronulla’s second and third tries were produced on the back of some Talakai heroics, to give himself an early double as well as an assist just two sets later through a cheeky pass to his fellow left-edge partner in crime, Ronaldo Mulitalo.
Hynes converted both of the tricky kicks to see his team lead 16-0.
You wouldn’t have needed a psychic to predict the following ten minutes with Talakai and Mulitalo “running riot”, as described by Fox commentator Michael Ennis.
The left edge set up another two tries, both through some further Talakai brilliance.
Mulitalo crossed for his second, while William Kennedy also joined in on the party.
Hynes was able to put one of the two conversions over the bar, seeing a dominant Cronulla lead 26-0.
Ill Discipline from Haumole Olakau’atu to earn himself a place in the sin bin saw his team fall even further behind, as Teig Wilton practically walked through the exact spot that the Manly second row would’ve been defending.
A simple Hynes conversion handed the Sharks a halftime margin of 32-0, without doubt, a lead that was sure to earn two premiership points.
The second half presented the biggest of challenges for the beaten up Manly outfit, however to their credit they started the half in a favourable way that saw them find consecutive points by scoring the first two tries of the half.
Coincidentally, the first try came from the left edge, this time through Christian Tuipulotu.
Shortly after, Taniela Paseka crossed over with help from a short Cherry-Evans dart that sent the prop through the Sharks line to score next to the posts.
Reuben Garrick knocked over the conversion after missing the previous one to create a somewhat interesting 32-10 scoreline with over half an hour to play.
The following fifteen minutes consisted of Manly clawing their way further back into the contest, with tries to Lachlan Croker and Olalau’atu, who made up for his time in the sin bin with four points of his own.
Two Garrick conversions saw the deficit decrease to a ten-point game in favour of the Sharks, setting up a nerve-wracking final fifteen minutes for the frustrated home fans at the Shire.
The final few minutes brought an unfortunate shoulder injury to Andrew Davey, who returned to his feet gingerly after an awkward landing when attempting to ground the ball in the in-goal.
The injury added to Paseka’s earlier knee injury, extending Manly’s injury struggles even further.
A late penalty goal to the Sharks gave the hosts a winning 12 point lead, as they held on for a deserved victory following a disappointing second half.
For the Sharks, the victory sees them back on the winners’ list in preparation for another Thursday night match next week, in a game which shouldn’t prove overly difficult against a lacklustre Brisbane Broncos.
Talakai’s dominant first half was one for the ages, and he can expect plenty of attention in the coming weeks from opposing defenders.
While Manly came out of the match disappointed with their first half thrashing, they were far from disgraced in the eventual 34-22 loss, and plenty of second-half positives including the influence of Cherry-Evans should leave Sea Eagles supporters optimistic for the return of Tom Trbojevic.
They’ll line up against a strong South Sydney Rabbitohs outfit next week in a match set to provide plenty of entertainment.
S. Talakai (2), R. Mulitalo (2), W.Kennedy, T.Wilton
Conversions- N. Hynes 4/6, Penalty Goals- N.Hynes 1/1
C.Tuipulotu, T.Paseka, L.Croker, H. Olakau’atu
Conversions- R.Garrick 3/4
NRL News Player of the Game
3. Siosifa Talakai (CRO)
2. Ronaldo Mulitalo (CRO)
1. Daly Cherry-Evans (MAN)