AN under-strength Cronulla side fought tooth and nail and even looked dangerous at times in attack but still ultimately fell short against the Canberra Raiders.
Tragically for the home side, two soft dummy-half tries killed them, the type of which the Sharks’ defence hasn’t conceded in years.
Not even a hat-trick of tries from winger David Simmons was enough to stop the Sharks falling to a 1-4 record and last place on the NRL ladder.
But credit to the Raiders, who scored when they needed to score and scrambled in defence well enough to take a vital two competition points.
They trailed at three separate times in the match but punished the Sharks’ errors to wrestle the lead back and then put the game away in the final minutes thanks to a break-away try.
The result was the second win in as many matches for David Furner’s Green Machine, pushing them up the ladder towards the finals zone and away from the foot of the standings.
The Game Swung When… Canberra skipper Alan Tongue rolled the dice and ran from dummy-half on the last tackle with 12 minutes remaining. The Raiders’ heart-and-soul spotted the smallest of opportunities and pounced, powering over next to the upright from close range to give his side the lead.
While the Sharks certainly weren’t out of the contest at 18-14 down, it forced them into catch-up football. A break down the right side broke down due to a Trent Barrett knock-on while with just four minutes remaining the home side looked like they might pull off a miracle when they tossed the ball around hot potato-style, kicked, regathered, passed some more… but then a second kick took a ricochet, Tongue picked it up and passed to Campese, who sprinted 60 metres to seal the match.
Who Was Hot… Terry Campese controlled the game and stepped up with class touches when they were needed, while Alan Tongue provided the big plays at the death.
Campese’s try assist was awesome and his 22 tackles and 137 metres added to his game. He also kept the Canberra side out of major trouble with a powerful kicking game.
But the Raiders had some real honest toilers in this contest. David Shillington powered to 146 metres with 16 tackles while Bronson Harrison led his side’s tackle count with 31. Young fullback Josh Dugan, in just his second NRL match, showed he could be a star of the future with 118 metres gained, eight tackle breaks and a line break that was a fingertip away from being a long-range try. He also showed he is an accomplished goal kicker.
For the Sharks, Luke Douglas worked his butt off with 137 metres, 34 tackles, seven tackle breaks, two offloads and a line break and he was supported nicely by Reece Williams who motored to 121 metres and 28 tackles. Winger David Simmons cashed in with three tries on the night and went within a video referee referral of a fourth, while Trent Barrett showed the Sharks need him if they are to compete at all this year.
Who Was Not… Canberra winger Adrian Purtell had a night to forget on the left wing. David Simmons scored three tries against him as he was constantly exposed drifting infield. He missed four tackles and might be lucky to hold his spot moving forward.
Sharks halfback Brett Seymour was improved in attack but his defence still needs work as he missed six tackles and added four ineffective ones also.
Had To Be Seen To Be Believed… Terry Campese has certainly blossomed into a genuine game breaker and should be getting fitted for his first New South Wales jersey. His role in the Raiders’ first try was pure class. The Australian World Cup Squad member chipped over the top for himself from 40 metres out, regathered and then fired a perfect pass out wide to centre Jarrod Croker. The pass deserves plenty of credit as Campese could have passed short to Adrian Purtell but was able to sum up the better option out wide in a millisecond, the sign of a great player.
The fact the Sharks actually made some inroads in attack was a bit unbelievable in itself… Trent Barrett’s 20-metre cut-out to David Simmons for his first try was brilliant while Mitch Brown’s one-handed jersey grab reach on a flying Josh Dugan saved a certain try late in the game.
Injuries… Shark Anthony Tupou had an ankle concern throughout the match but battled on, while young centre Matthew Wright was troubled by a calf injury which saw him miss the final 20 minutes of his debut game.
Bad Boys… No obvious problems here. The boys were on their best behaviour it seemed… although the Sharks know what it’s like to be stung in post match review.
Ref Watch… Alan Shortall and Ben Cummins had a few 50:50 calls which could cause minor debate but nothing to get too upset about.
Although, what exactly has happened to the interpretation of advantage? At one stage in the first half the Raiders lost the ball close to the line when attacking, Sharks fullback Mitch Brown picked it up and ran 20 metres before losing the ball himself. The whistleblowers claimed Brown had no advantage however it appeared he had in fact taken it. It is a reoccurring trend in recent weeks… perhaps the referees have decided to be more lenient in this regard.
NRL.com Best & Fairest… 3 points – Terry Campese (Raiders): This man is heading for the Origin arena if he keeps up his dominant form. The good players make things look effortless and Campese does that… without him the Raiders lose this game; 2 points – Josh Dugan (Raiders): A really mature fullback effort from a very young man. Dugan showed a cool head and played like he’s been in the NRL for a decade rather than two matches. Watch this space, he’ll be in it, or the ‘3’ spot above, on more occasions this year; 1 point – Luke Douglas (Sharks): Did everything he could to lead the Sharks forward and into attacking positions. Another that wouldn’t be out of place in the Origin arena.
Canberra 24 (J Croker, S Flanagan, A Tongue, T Campese tries; J Dugan 2, T Campese 2 goals) def Cronulla 14 (D Simmons 3 tries; L Covell goal) at Toyota Stadium. Crowd: 8,561.