IT’S taken 13 rounds but the Sharks have finally recorded back-to-back wins with a courageous and determined performance against the Warriors. The Auckland-based Kiwis just couldn’t cope with an early attacking raid from the Sharks – something not wholly expected by their fans who’ve been starved of points in their nine-match losing streak, snapped only last week against the Eels – and after 30 minutes the home side led by 18 points.
Despite a significant change in momentum in the second half and the efforts of a battle-scarred Steven Price and the ever-present Lance Hohaia, the visitors just didn’t have the urgency to overcome the tough Sharks.
The Game Swung When... Despite a strong start by Cronulla, it looked as though the Warriors were going to overcome their rivals midway through the second half.
Down by just eight points, the visitors appearing to be gaining the ascendency after tries to Manu Vatuvei and Lewis Brown either side of the break. The Warriors’ chief playmaker Stacey Jones decided to take the game by the scruff of the neck with it still hanging in the balance. His chip-and-chase plan looked planned to perfection with fullback Wade McKinnon steaming onto his handy footwork; with team-mates looming up in support, points looked on offer.
But it was the tackle of Cronulla fullback Nathan Stapleton, not the footwork of his opponent, that decided this match. With ball in hand, McKinnon looked to slide across field and link up with runners but Stapleton smashed his opponent and the ball spilt loose for the Sharks to reclaim possession. Had Stapleton, in just his third NRL game, not completed that tackle the result would’ve almost certainly been a different.
Who Was Hot... Stapleton and fellow rookie Scott Porter had outstanding games and both are exciting prospects for the Sharks.
Stapleton not only tackled effectively with the match on the line, he was very dangerous with ball in hand, breaking the defensive line twice and running for 166 metres.
Porter continued his successful start to first grade football with another effective passing and kicking game. While his stats don’t look overly impressive on paper – three runs for 31 metres, one try assist and 24 tackles – his kicking game, totalling 461 metres, kept the Warriors on the back foot and allowed his team-mates time to get down the other end of the field and tackling aggressively. Both players were crucial to the Sharks’ victory.
Who Was Not... Warriors interchange Lewis Brown scored a try... but had a disappointing afternoon otherwise. In the first half he displayed a lack on game awareness when he was caught in possession on the fifth tackle and early in the second half made a poor error running out from his team’s territory.
Had To Be Seen To Be Believed... Stapleton’s 29th-minute try was a set play worked to perfection. Leading 12-0, creative dummy-half Terence Seu Seu scooted at the first defender behind the play-the-ball before passing to halfback Porter, who was also marked. But just as the play looked likely to break down, Stapleton flew onto a Porter inside pass into open space to sprint across and score.
It was a clever move and it proved decisive in the wash-up.
Refs Watch... The game’s officials have copped it from critics in recent weeks, so let’s be fair: there were no major blunders in this match.
A total of nine penalties were blown in this contest and on most occasions refs Tony Archer and Matt Cecchin went unseen. After a fortnight full of controversy, it was a refreshing change.
Injuries... Several players exited this contest worse for wear.
Early in the match Warriors prop Sam Rapira suffered from the effects of a head clash with Sharks prop Luke Douglas... but he played on. As did fellow Warriors forward Steven Price, who suffered a cut above the eye and left the field for treatment.
Stapleton also appeared to be limping with a knee injury in the second half... but he continued and played a vital role in the victory.
NRL.com Best & Fairest... 3 points – Nathan Stapleton (Sharks): Superb in attack and defence in his third NRL game; 2 points – Scott Porter (Sharks): Influential with the ball in hand, with accurate kicks gaining his team the upper hand; 1 point – Stacey Jones (Warriors): Set up two tries and nearly led his team to victory.
Sharks 18 (M Wright, A Tupou, N Stapleton tries; L Covell 3 goals) def Warriors 10 (L Brown, M Vatuvei tries; K Locke goal) at Toyota Stadium. Crowd: 14,082.