Cronulla Sutherland Sharks 18 def Penrith Panthers 10
On a night when Toyota Stadium occasionally resembled a monsoonal township in Kakadu, the Panthers kicked and kicked and kicked, often early in the tackle count, while the Sharks fumbled, dropped out, had less possession and did more tackling… and then won the game. Funny game, rugby league.
In the second half when the rain abated, the Sharks played the more disciplined footy to eventually outlast a Panthers outfit that tried hard but weren’t smart, disciplined or good enough.
Those Panthers fans who made the trek to the Shire will head back to the mountains hoping against hope that their season 2009 will be different from last year. But given they have the same players, same coach, a game plan that looks one-dimensional, and a lone game-breaker in Michael Jennings, it’s hard to see where optimism can be gleaned.
The Game Swung When… In the 25th minute Brett Kearney did his ankle. For the next 15 minutes to halftime the Panthers had a mountain of possession and continually grubbered in-goal (perhaps believing no-one had replaced Kearney at fullback) for several repeat sets. But they couldn’t add to their eight points.
In the 55th minute: a moment to warm the hearts of Sharks supporters. Trent Barrett took the ball in two hands, teased the defence before finding Paul Gallen on the charge. Gallen beat a couple of defenders and just as he was about hit the deck in a tackle, flicked a pass inside to Anthony Tupou who went under the posts. This is a great triumvirate of players; similar to the Roosters’ Braith Anasta, Craig Fitzgibbon and Tupou (when Toops was a chook). They could terrorise defences this year.
Who Was Hot… Trent Barrett laid on some classy touches and scored a fine try – what genius let this bloke go to England? Brent Seymour laid on a nice grubber for Barrett’s try and looked pretty good in the No.7. Anthony Tupou was willing in defence (30 tackles), tyro front-rower Kade Snowden was a handful in a night for the forwards and Luke Douglas made 37 tackles, shouldering a lot of the burden when Ben Ross was stretchered off with a worrying neck injury.
The Sharks’ best, though, on a tough night was skipper Paul Gallen who offloaded four times (for one try assist), made 30 tackles and a game-high 21 runs for 153 metres. Some game.
For the Panthers, Michael Jennings’ footwork for his first try bedazzled three Sharks defenders and burned off two others, Jarrod Sammut’s kicking was serviceable (if a little premature in the tackle count), Masada Iosefa was busy around the ruck, while captain Petero Civoniceva did what he always does – hard yards done well. Frank Puletua made 141 metres in 50 minutes off the bench.
Also, Sharks fans, if you want that first premiership you’d better get off your backsides and help your team – a 10,000 home crowd was pretty ordinary, even allowing for the inclement weather. What, does everyone in The Shire have Foxtel?
Who Was Not… Both teams’ hands weren’t flash given it was wetter than Darwin in December. But Misi Taulapapa dropped more ball than a one-armed man eating an ice cream.
The Panthers kicked too much. They needed to “run” the ball and make the Sharks tackle rather than kicking every single time so early in the count. They seemed to think kicking on the second tackle would trick the Sharks. It might have worked first time. And maybe second. But every time? No. In fact it got boring, especially with a mover like Michael Jennings out wide.
Had To Be Seen To Be Believed… Trent Barrett, Anthony Tupou and Corey Hughes in the classic blue-white-and-black of the Sharks; Anthony Tupou put a beauty of a hit on Brad Tighe; a Luke Covell drop-out went 72 metres; and in the 66th minute Grant Millington laid a huge hit on Frank Puletua that coughed up the pill like a piece of soap shot out a garden hose. And the Sharks players came from everywhere to congratulate… Paul Gallen, who took the plaudits with evident pleasure. Funny game, rugby league.
Bad Boys… A bit of argy-bargy among the bigger boys but for the most part a hard game and fair. Although… the match review committee later cited Panthers pair Trent Waterhouse and Michael Jennings with separate Dangerous Contact charges. They’ll be free to play this weekend with early guilty pleas.
Injuries… A bad night for the Sharks – Brett Kearney looks gone for up to four months with a shocking ankle injury while prop Ben Ross’ future is in limbo while doctors monitor his neck.
Ref Watch… Though they missed a strip by Jarrod Sammut on Misi Taulapapa, ruling the Sharks wing had knocked on, then called Taulapapa for a knock-on when the ball went 45 degrees backwards (refs, please: it is not drop ball), and made a couple of other little blues, there can’t be too many recriminations against the officials. In shocking conditions that could have been conducive to confusion, the refs were pretty good.
NRL.com Best & Fairest… 3 points – Paul Gallen (Sharks): On a tough night at the office the captain led from the front; 2 points – Trent Barrett (Sharks): Showing class is permanent, laid on a try, a try assist and a 40/20 – great to see him back; 1 point – Kade Snowden (Sharks): A host of big charges from a young prop with plenty of game – 12 runs for 106 metres and 22 tackles.
Sharks 18 (T Barrett, A Tupou tries; L Covell 5 goals) def Panthers 10 (M Jennings try; M Gordon 3 goals) at Toyota Stadium. Crowd: 10,617.