Sharks beat Bulldogs in dour struggle
Unperturbed by the 19,000 strong Belmore contingent, the Cronulla Sharks have managed to beat the Bulldogs 18-16 in their second return to Belmore Sports Ground for the season, in a dour affair which produced more than 50 errors and penalties combined.
While ill-discipline featured heavily in Cronulla's third-straight win, a questionable decision to penalise Josh Reynolds for his challenge on Sharks winger Valentine Holmes's while attempting a field goal edged the Sharks ahead for the win.
It was the second time this season a Bulldogs player has been penalised for taking out an opposition field goal kicker – the first being on Good Friday against the Rabbitohs when James Graham took out Adam Reynolds – in a decisions which ultimately decided both games.
While Michael Lichaa's try in the 78th minute gave the Bulldogs a sniff, the penalty goal proved to be the difference in the end.
"We made 16 errors with the football and kicked out on the full twice. Usually when you do that, especially against a team like the Bulldogs, we get beat by a fair score but we were really brave and turned up time and time again," Sharks coach Shane Flanagan said.
"I was very pleased with the Bulldogs supporters. While they gave the ref a bit of a razz on the way off by booing him, that's what Australian sport's about.
"People were congratulating me on the way down from the coaches box - that's what it's all about."
Things didn't look likely for the Bulldogs from the get-go however when their five-eighth Josh Reynolds left the field within nine minutes with an apparent shoulder injury.
While he would return 10 minutes later, the Sharks had already scored after a line break from Wade Graham provided Michael Gordon the opportunity to seal an early Cronulla advantage in the 13th minute.
Bulldogs back-rower Shaun Lane was disallowed a try a few sets later due to a double movement, but the Bulldogs were on the board soon after when Josh Morris pushed his way past two Sharks defenders to help peg the score back to 6-4 in the 18th minute.
Sharks captain Paul Gallen kicked off the second half by being placed on report for a crusher tackle on centre Morris. But Gallen was all smiles in the 51st minute when Michael Ennis put his captain in for his first try since Round 16 last year to help extend Cronulla's lead to eight points.
Ennis kept the good times rolling in the 60th minute when he chipped the ball over the top for Holmes to score – his eighth try assist in four games. With Bulldogs winger Curtis Rona having his back towards Holmes, the Sharks winger was able to sneak under his opposite man to score his 12th try of the season.
Bulldogs forward Frank Pritchard gave the Belmore faithful some relief in the 65th minute when he scored his third try in two games. Coming off a quick shift and a wrap around by Trent Hodkinson, the bullocking back-rower helped cut the deficit back down to six points.
Brett Morris looked to have squared the ledger with eight minutes remaining, but his effort was quickly pulled back by video referees Bernard Sutton and Henry Perenara who ruled Pritchard impeded Sharks five-eighth Jack Bird in making a tackle.
Despite Lichaa's late try in the 78th minute, Holmes's penalty goal three minutes earlier sealed sixth place on the Telstra Premiership ladder for Cronulla. Of concern though was their back-rower Luke Lewis limping off in the final 10 minutes with a knee injury.
Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks 18 (Michael Gordon, Paul Gallen, Valentine Holmes Tries; Valentine Holmes 2, Michael Gordon Goals) defeated Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs 16 (Josh Morris, Frank Pritchard, Michael Lichaa Tries; Trent Hodkinson 2 Goals) at Belmore Sportsground. Crowd: 19,005. Half-time: Sharks 6-4. On Report: Paul Gallen (Sharks), Josh Reynolds (Bulldogs).