Wet and wild conditions, the most passionate fans anywhere in the NRL and the Rabbitohs' misfortunes. These are the key points to come from the Sharks' 18-10 win over South Sydney.
Cronulla know who their real diehard fans are now
It was a Monday night, against the defending premiers, there were terrible conditions all day long and they were forecasted to get worse as the night progressed.
Sharks fans could have had their pick of any number of reasons to not turn out to support their team to their third-straight victory on Monday night. Indeed many Cronulla fans took their excuses and ran with them straight to the comfort of their cosy living rooms.
But for the 3,978 absolutely diehard fans who did make the trip to Remondis Stadium, warmth and comfort are clearly no match for the passion they have for their team.
At crucial points in the second half with the game in the balance the home crowd made their voices heard, inspiring their team to come home with a wet sail (and everything else) to down the Bunnies.
“I’m not quite sure of the crowd but they were noisy and they deserve a pat on the back,” coach Shane Flanagan said after the win.
“There was probably a lot of reasons not to turn out, but that was outstanding and I thank every one of them,” he said.
Having the wind at your back isn’t always an advantage
Unlike Sunday afternoon’s game between the Tigers and Raiders where the wind was a genuine advantage to either team, Monday night’s extreme conditions meant having the wind at your back could also make it harder.
With the Sharks running with the rather heavy breeze in the opening half it appeared as though they may not have made the most of the favourable wind, going into the sheds just six points up.
However stand-in skipper Michael Ennis revealed after the match that the supporting wind sometimes detracted from the Sharks' kicking game.
“First half we had a slight breeze behind us… it was one of the key factors and you had to be really selective with your kicking game,” Ennis said.
“I hit one that almost ended up in Botany. It was just about trying to pull it up and win field position, normally the wind helps you but at times it was more of a hindrance.
“At least in the second half you could kick it with everything you had and knew it was going to pull out. “
Both teams handled the ball remarkably well
Given the ridiculous conditions both teams did very well to hold onto the ball the way they did. There were only 18 errors all up in a match where both teams still managed to spread the ball with success.
It was an entertaining encounter for a number of reasons but not purely because of the weather conditions.
“I thought it was an outstanding game from both sides,” Shane Flanagan said after the match.
“The completion rates, we were at 90 per cent and Souths were at 82 so it’s a credit to both lots of 17 players.”
A short grubber is the most effective attacking kick in a cyclone
With the conditions on Monday night so extreme, both sides took their time to settle into their attacking strategies. With the wind at their backs both the Sharks and Rabbitohs kicked the ball dead on numerous occasions and often shanked their attempts at attacking kicks. They soon learned that any kick that lofted into the air was purely at the mercy of the swirling winds and therefore impossible to judge.
Enter the grubber.
It was the one attacking kick that paid dividends for both teams, with the Sharks the first to capitalize on the strategy in the 23rd minute as Ennis took the ball out of dummy half and dribbled in behind the goal line defence for Luke Lewis to score.
Ennis would revert to the same tactic to set up the game-sealing four-pointer to Jayson Bukuya in the closing moments, whilst South Sydney also capitalised with Luke Keary brilliantly setting up Chris McQueen in the 54th minute.
The defending premiers need to get used to opponents stepping up against them
The Rabbitohs are seemingly still adjusting to opposing teams stepping up with big performances against them this year, and Monday night was no different with the Sharks putting in one of the toughest efforts in their club’s history.
It’s always tough for defending premiers to match the intensity their opponents bring week in, week out, but it’s something they need to find a way to do in coming weeks.
Michael Maguire spoke of the need for his team to translate their effort in training to the field on game day.
“There’s a lot of belief, we didn’t get the result, but we’re playing teams who are going to bring the same desire as Cronulla showed, so we need to take what we’re doing on the training park onto the playing field,” he said.
Greg Inglis agreed and refused to blame the playing conditions for his side’s performance.
“There were key moments through the game that went their way and we didn’t win those moments,” the Souths skipper said.