Titans coach John Cartwright admitted after this game that he had approached the match in a negative way – and it almost cost the Gold Coast what should have been two of the easiest competition points they have snared all year.
From the opening whistle, the Titans were clearly off their game. Young winger David Mead dropped the ball in the first play of the game, but a few tackles later Sharks prop Kade Snowden handed it straight back. That was the difference in the game – Cronulla simply lacked the experience to make the most of the Titans’ mistakes.
In the end Mat Rogers and Scott Prince were too seasoned to let the win go, while the Sharks have run out of troops this season.
However, after the huge thumping they received from the Wests Tigers last weekend, the Cronulla side restored some pride by holding the finals-bound Titans to just 20 points.
The Game Swung When… Surprisingly, it was not until the last two minutes of the first half that it looked as though the Gold Coast were finally getting the ascendency. A couple of smart plays from Mat Rogers had pulled back the 6-0 deficit, and turned it into a 12-6 lead, but Cronulla were clearly not out of the game.
However, a controversial penalty against Sharks winger Blake Ferguson for not playing the ball correctly, just 10 metres out from his own line, helped the Titans create a buffer with a penalty goal, to steal ahead 14-6.
The referees warned Ferguson three times, and on the fourth occasion penalised him for an air swing as he was playing the ball. That penalty hurt the Sharks, and the eight-point lead going into half-time set up the Titans to hold on in the second.
Who Was Hot… The Titans’ halves controlled this game with flair. Rogers moved back to five-eighth with William Zillman out – so Preston Campbell switched to fullback, and Esi Tonga came into the centres.
Rogers scored the first try, his 100th in the NRL, set up the second and went tantalisingly close to scoring another but was ruled to have made a double-movement. Prince pulled all the right strings at halfback, shifting the ball around the park, enabling the Titans to break right through the middle, and also on the edges.
The surprise beneficiary of those breaks was replacement back-rower Luke O’Dwyer, who had one of his best games of the season with two line breaks and six tackle breaks.
For the Sharks, not one player stopped trying. Typically it was Paul Gallen who kept the team motivated, scoring their first try and setting up their final one with a beautiful long ball to Jack Afamasaga, who then passed to Ferguson for the try.
Who Was Not… Apart from Gallen and Luke Douglas, the Sharks’ pack lacked punch, and they failed to gain enough ground in this game to give their playmakers a real chance.
Only Douglas and Gallen made more than 100 metres, with Anthony Tupou making just 27. The bench did not help either – Ian Donnelly was sin-binned and Afamasaga managed just 32 metres.
Had To Be Seen To Be Believed: The Titans could have finished the game with a much healthier scoreline had three tries they ‘scored’ not been disallowed.
The first seemed to have nothing wrong with it, until replays showed O’Dwyer taking out a defender. It did not seem as though he was impacting play, but video ref Chris Ward deemed it an impediment.
Rogers was then disallowed a try for his double-movement, before Sam Tagataese was called back from his four-pointer for a forward pass.
Injuries: Tonga lasted 53 minutes before leaving the field with what was a suspected dislocated shoulder. He will be monitored and tested throughout the week.
Refs Watch: The penalty to Ferguson right on halftime was dubious, as were some of the no-try decisions. However an O’Dwyer break which led to Anthony Laffranchi’s try was surely from an obstruction, which was let go.
NRL.com Best & Fairest… 3 points – Mat Rogers (Titans): Showed he can still turn a match with a great attacking performance with a try, try assist and two line breaks; 2 points – Paul Gallen (Sharks): Outstanding in a beaten side, Gallen was inspirational with 196 metres and a try; 1 point – Luke O’Dwyer (Titans): His best game of the season, O’Dwyer made two line breaks, six tackle breaks and scored a try.
Titans 20 (M Rogers, L O’Dwyer, A Laffranchi tries; S Prince 4 goals) def Sharks 10 (P Gallen, B Ferguson tries; L Covell goal) at Skilled Park. Crowd: 14,714.