As Cronulla fans turn their thoughts towards Sunday’s game against the Roosters at Toyota Stadium, one image from their less-than-memorable 2010 season continues to burn brightly.
It was a try scored by fullback Nathan Gardner in last year’s Round 13 clash that produced a rare thrill for long-suffering supporters and even now it’s greeted with an enthusiastic reaction when it is mentioned in the press or aired on television.
Gardner’s scintillating effort in which he retrieved a Roosters kick on his own 10-metre line and set off up-field, veering across the ground and touching down in the opposite corner of the Sydney Football Stadium, was regarded as one of the great individual tries of 2010.
It helped carry the Sharks to a 42-18 upset of the Roosters and continued a history of memorable tries scored between these two Sydney clubs.
Talented Roosters utility Andrew Walker left Sharks players and supporters shellshocked with his searing effort in the opening round of the 1998 season. Many in the Saturday night crowd of 17,828 were still filing into Shark Park when Walker flashed through to score a 55-metre special after just 35 seconds.
Afterwards the gifted Aboriginal star was lauded by Roosters great Ron Coote, who described him as “the most dynamic player in the competition”, and coach Phil Gould said he was “one of the most gifted and dangerous players I have had anything to do with.”
In 1994, Cronulla centre Andrew Ettingshausen destroyed the Roosters with two tries and a hand in another as the Sharks triumphed 20-8 at the SFS.
First ‘ET’ managed to get a touch to a bouncing bomb to set up a try for winger Richie Barnett, then he left Roosters fullback Rod Silva standing when he stepped past him to score between the posts and he crossed for another try before halftime.
“It’s like a goalkeeper trying to stop a penalty,” said Sharks coach John Lang as he described the plight of a fullback standing between Ettingshausen and the try-line.
In 1989 English flyer Martin Offiah produced a mesmerising effort as the Roosters surged to a 30-12 win at the SFS. As the Sharks forwards began to tire midway through the second half, Offiah broke a tackle, raced 35 metres down his wing, kicked ahead and regathered to score a four-pointer that rated among his finest on Australian soil.
In 1987, another Englishman, Joe Lydon, scored a try that had many of the hallmarks of Gardner’s special effort last year. As the Roosters prepared to challenge Manly and Canberra for premiership honours that season, Lydon took his chance from dummy-half, 20 metres from the Roosters’ end of Endeavour Field (as the Sharks’ home ground was then known). He ran into open space down the western touchline, outpaced stand-in Sharks fullback Allan Wilson with an in-and-away then speared towards the corner as the cover converged. He looked to have too much pace for the chasers but inexplicably, he veered in-field, stepped inside all three defenders and touched down close to the posts.
It was a try the British Test star rated “right up there with the best in my career”. Lydon said: “To score one like that in the best competition in the world, in such a crucial match, gave me a great feeling.”
Gardner was not named in Shane Flanagan’s line-up for Sunday’s game against the Roosters at Toyota Stadium but it would not be surprising to see him included as a late change for the Sharks. He was rushed back ahead of time from an ankle injury for Cronulla’s last match against Souths and although he struggled to get through the 80 minutes, he reportedly did no further damage to the ankle.
Flanagan admitted he needed Gardner “at 90 percent”. “He is a try scorer,” the coach enthused.
And as the Sharks aim to get their season back on track this Sunday, Cronulla fans will be crossing their fingers that their brilliant fullback will make it back to repeat last year’s phenomenal four-pointer.
Hit and Try
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