Bird stars as Sharks stun Roosters
The Cronulla Sharks have shown amazing discipline and control to earn their first NRL Telstra Premiership win since July last year, stunning the Sydney Roosters in the biggest upset of 2015 so far.
As was the case in Round 17 last year when beating the Roosters against all odds, the Sharks looked nothing like the winless team that has seemed lifeless at times in the first four rounds of the season.
Jack Bird, in his second NRL game and first starting at five-eighth for the Sharks, was the star of the match. He was outstanding again, after making a terrific debut last week, scoring the first try, setting up the second and then scoring the game winner in the final minutes of play.
After the match Cronulla captain Paul Gallen was glowing of young star Bird.
"He's a good kid, he's got that knack, he's got that vision, he's tough as nails and he's got a real bright future ahead of him," Gallen said.
Sharks coach Stuart Flanagan agreed with his skipper's assessment.
"Birdy had a great game, scored two tries... we knew he had it in him," he said.
Meanwhile Roosters coach Trent Robinson lamented his side's slow start after their first loss since Round 1.
"Not our best game today but credit to them, they came out and they fought hard," he said.
Bird's combination with Jeff Robson was perfectly balanced as the more experienced halfback showed class in calmly controlling the Cronulla attack against a Roosters defence that has looked impenetrable at times this year.
The Roosters rarely threatened the Sharks, just one week after putting 34 points on the board against the Raiders. Their blunt attack was due partly to being overworked in defence; in the first half they were forced to make 85 more tackles than the Sharks, 139 more by the end of the match.
That was due in large part to Cronulla's amazing completion rate, completing their sets at an astonishing 95 per cent in the first half, deserving more than their 4-0 half time lead. Possession to the Sharks was at 70 per cent in the first 15 minutes before it levelled out to 61 per cent by half-time.
The only reward for an impressive first-half performance for the Sharks was a 32nd minute runaway try to youngster Bird. He sliced through the Roosters edge defence on the back of a deft inside ball from Luke Lewis, at a stage when Cronulla had found it otherwise impossible to breach the Tricolours defence. In his first match starting in the NRL Telstra Premiership the exciting Bird was too fast, beating Roger Tuivasa-Sheck to the corner and earning his side a 4-0 half-time advantage.
The Roosters goal line defence was impressive in the first half, particularly that of their wingers Nene McDonald and Daniel Tupou who time after time defused bombs without error.
Bird was at it again to draw blood early in the second, showing experience beyond his years to draw Tupou out of his corner before placing a perfect grubber in behind him. Valentine Holmes sprinted through to ground the ball, with Michael Gordon's conversion making it a 10-0 lead.
Luke Lewis extended the Sharks lead minutes later. He took a perfectly placed cross-field kick from Robson high above his head, planting it down over the line without any real opposition from Michael Jennings who couldn't find the elevation to contest the ball. Gordon's conversion from an easy angle bounced away making it 14-0 to the Sharks.
The Roosters finally opened their account in the 67th minute with Tuivasa-Sheck showing blistering pace to race away and score against a tiring and fractured defensive line.
Four minutes later the Roosters' comeback was well and truly on when Mitchell Aubusson completed a sweeping backline movement to plant the ball in the corner. That set up an enticing final eight minutes of play, however the Roosters momentum was immediately halted as Pearce knocked on from the ensuing kick-off.
Bird stamped himself as the hero soon after. To cap off an amazing display he backed himself with numbers outside, stepping off his right foot to bamboozle the Roosters' sliding defensive line. He beat Tuivasa-Scheck to plant the ball beneath the black dot sealing an amazing victory for Cronulla.
Jennings was placed on report in the final minutes for a high shot on Lewis.
Cronulla Sharks 20 (Bird 2, Holmes, Lewis tries; Gordon 2 goals) defeated Sydney Roosters 12 (Aubusson, Tuivasa-Sheck tries; Maloney 2 goals) at Allianz Stadium. Crowd: 12,004