AFTER a week of cross-town sledging between the players and the CEOs, this was to be one of the clashes of the round. A genuine grudge match. The meeting of Corey Hughes and Reni Maitua v the Bulldogs. Brett Kimmorley v the Sharks.
But an early surge by the Bulldogs saw the idea of a closely fought contest blown out of the water. Three tries within half an hour looked likely to be too much for the Sharks, struggling to score points the past few seasons... and eventually it proved so, despite some late-found resilience from the away side.
Tellingly, Cronulla coach Ricky Stuart labelled his team’s effort “embarrassing”.
The Game Swung When... The Bulldogs’ opening onslaught was too much for the Sharks to handle. Down 18-0 after 23 minutes, the Sharks just didn’t have enough in attack to score four tries.
The signs were ordinary for Cronulla supporters in just the fifth minute when Bryson Goodwin glided past Misi Taulapapa to open the scoring, and it didn’t look more positive six minutes later when Cronulla’s opposite winger, Luke Covell, was caught out of position by Hazem El Masri who scored his 50th try at ANZ Stadium.
And when Chris Armit popped a brilliant offload that resulted in captain Andrew Ryan scoring an easy try, it was obvious the Bulldogs were going to dominate proceedings.
Who Was Hot... Luke Patten was a standout for the ’Dogs. And not just for his influential hand in attack, either. It was his presence in defence that prevented a runaway Taulapapa from finding support to give the Sharks the momentum going into half-time. Add 135 metres and his hand in the deciding try and it was a great performance from ‘The General’.
Who Was Not... Returning halfback Brett Seymour had an afternoon to forget for the Sharks. After copping a knock to the head in the first tackle of the match that saw him dazed and confused, the former Bronco struggled in his first game back since his club-imposed suspension.
While his defence was reliable as always, his job for the Sharks is to provide his team with direction in attack – even more so when Trent Barrett is on the injured list. On too many occasions he came up with the wrong option, an error (with three in total) or failed to effectively deliver the ball to the outside through a pass or a kick – including a terrible last-play decision that saw the football kicked almost 10 metres over the Bulldogs’ touch-in-goal line.
Cronulla needs a much better performance from him to be effective and successful this season.
Had To Be Seen To Be Believed... The Bulldogs’ final try was simply remarkable. After scoring all their previous points in the first half, the last try was the match-sealer in the 74th minute.
Andrew Ryan ran into a gaping hole before drawing a Shark and passing to Luke Patten in support. ‘The General’ juggled the ball while running at pace before being brought to ground by Luke Covell. Covell flung his left side of the body into the path of Patten, his arm and leg bringing the fullback to ground.
But Patten wasn’t securely tackled on the ground – he popped a chest pass off the deck to Josh Morris who was adjudicated by the video referee to have grounded the football over the Sharks’ tryline.
Refs Watch... Jason Robinson and Gerard Sutton might have some explaining to do; why they didn’t refer to the video referee in the second half is anyone’s guess.
The refs got in wrong in the 51st minute when they ruled Ben Roberts had knocked the ball on close to the Sharks’ line. In reality the ball had been knocked out by a Shark for winger Bryson Goodwin to reach out and score a try. They also controversially ruled a forward pass by Andrew Ryan in the 70th minute that would’ve resulted in a try. Late in the match, in the match-sealing try, Luke Covell was put on report for a trip on Patten – he was later cleared.
Bad Boys… Oh dear. Nothing much was made of it during the game but upon review three Sharks will be missing from next week’s game against the Raiders. Captain Paul Gallen will be sidelined for a minimum two games (striking), Misi Taulapapa a week (dangerous contact – legs) for using his feet to try to stop a try; and Kade Snowden will be out for a week (dangerous contact – neck).
Injuries... The main injury concern to come out of this match was the terrible fall suffered by new Shark Jack Afamasaga. On debut for Cronulla, Afamasaga’s first hit-up for his club resulted in a knee injury. Falling awkwardly under the weight of two players, he was immediately taken from the field in a medicab.
Although several other players suffered knocks in the match, including Seymour and Bulldog David Stagg, they continued playing.
NRL.com Best & Fairest... 3 points – Luke Patten (Bulldogs): Influential from the back in both attack and defence; 2 points – Andrew Ryan (Bulldogs): Kept his team on the front foot with 119 metres and provided an attacking option on the edge of the ruck; 1 point – Corey Hughes (Sharks): Defended stoutly for his team, including one terrific try-saving tackle.
Bulldogs 24 (H El Masri, B Goodwin, A Ryan, J Morris tries; H El Masri 4 goals) def Sharks 12 (A Tupou, P Gallen tries; L Covell 2 goals) at ANZ Stadium. Crowd: 15,520.