On an unseasonal, warm winter's day, Wests Tigers destroyed the disappointing Sharks at Toyota Stadium.
Though ravaged by injury, Cronulla played poorly and will be disappointed in this showing in front of their loyal fans.
Wests Tigers will be buoyed by their showing, scoring 10 fine tries and keeping their opponents to just two. It would have been an enjoyable game to play. But Tim Sheens will temper their enthusiasm, knowing they dusted a reserve-grade-quality team.
The Game Swung When… The game was over by half-time, by which time the Tigers had run in five tries and led 28-0.
When Tim Moltzen stepped neatly and ran 80 metres to score under the posts, the only thing the Sharks could do was stop the embarrassment. They did not.
Great first try by the Tigers. Benji Marshall took a pass from Robbie Farah out of dummy-half and immediately popped it back inside to fullback Moltzen. Moltzen streamed into a gap, drew the fullback and put Marshall in under the posts.
The Tigers’ third try was also a cracker. Giant Pom Gareth Ellis ran the Sharks ragged before offloading to John Skandalis who ran up the middle and was tackled 15 metres out. Moltzen went to dummy-half and sent a lovely spiral ball to Farah, who sent an even better and longer spiral ball out to winger Beau Ryan who went over untouched.
Their fourth try involved a break up the middle by Farah, who picked up Tuiaki who went under the posts. And then right on half-time, a truly spectacular try: Ryan and Blake Ayshford ran down the right following a brilliant ball by Farah. Ryan dodged and weaved and beat several players on a run back into the middle before finding Marshall who bounced around as he does. The ball was popped over the top to Tuiaki who plunged over out wide, his second try making him the outright leader in season '09. He finished with a hat-trick.
Who Was Hot… Farah tormented the Sharks with sniping out of dummy-half and fine distribution for his backline. Moltzen looked hot in the no.1, running riot all over the park.
And there was some neat work from debutant halfback Robert Lui. Big raps on the kid from Mt Isa; he looks a handy type.
Tigers forwards Chris Heighington, Ellis, Skandalis and Bryce Gibbs were all strong in a dominant side.
The Sharks didn't give up and were best served by Luke Douglas, Grant Millington and Paul Gallen. Anthony Tupou offloaded a game-high five times and Misi Taulapapa ran hard and broke five tackles.
Who Was Not... The Sharks' defence up the middle of the ruck was paper-thin, with Farah making inroads at will, while Todd Payten, Ellis, Skandalis, Gibbs and Heighington crashed over the advantage line often as not. Not NRL standard.
The Sharks' kicking was also ordinary. For them to have a chance they had to force repeat sets. They didn't and they didn't.
Overall there were just too many mistakes from Cronulla for them to pose any sort of credible threat to Wests Tigers – or anyone bar the Roosters or Warriors, really. They tried hard and don't stop trying, but there's a reserve grade look about the Sharks, the club does not have the depth to cover their many injuries.
Had To Be Seen To Be Believed… Marshall's second try was a ripper. Moltzen collected a kick, passed to Tuiaki who found Moltzen again on the loop. Moltzen picked up Marshall who sprinted down the left, stepped off his left foot and left Nathan Stapleton clutching at air, and ran 50 metres to go under the posts.
Bad Boys… None.
Refs Watch… Anonymous and fine game from refs Steve Lyons and Alan Shortall. And video ref Phil Cooley got it right on the rare occasions he was called on.
NRL.com Best & Fairest… 3 points – Robbie Farah (Wests Tigers): Ran through Cronulla like Epsom salts through a shark's alimentary canal; 2 points – Gareth Ellis (Wests Tigers): Looked like Bradley Clyde against schoolboys; 1 point –Tim Moltzen (Wests Tigers): Stepped off both feet and ran about like a pinball.
Wests Tigers 56 (T Tuiaki 3, B Marshall 2, B Ryan 2, B Ayshford 2, T Moltzen tries; B Marshall 8 goals) def Cronulla Sharks 10 (M Brown, M Wright tries; L Covell goal) at Toyota Stadium. Crowd: 12,982.