Sharks too good for Wests Tigers
Two tries from winger Valentine Holmes killed off a potential Wests Tigers comeback as Cronulla kicked on to secure a 40-18 win in front of a vocal 15,000-strong Remondis Stadium crowd on Saturday.
With his Sharks up 20-6 at half-time, Holmes's two tries came either side a three-try burst from the Tigers, before two late tries for the home side sealed the visitors' fate.
After being thrashed by Melbourne last weekend, the Sharks all but booked a place in the Telstra Premiership finals series with their victory, with only games against the Eels and Sea Eagles to come.
The hosts looked sharp from the get-go, with Sharks back-rower Luke Lewis scoring his 10th try of the year and his side's first of the day in the fourth minute when some handy lead-up work from captain Paul Gallen and slick passing from five-eighth Jack Bird saw the veteran run through a gaping hole.
After converting Lewis's try, fullback Michael Gordon backed it up in the 10th minute with a penalty goal.
A Luke Brooks intercept saw the Wests Tigers halfback almost run the field to score, and despite being chased down by Valentine Holmes the Tigers were able to score on the very next tackle when Kevin Naiqama combined with Tim Simona in the 17th minute.
Cronulla hit back five minutes later when Michael Ennis caught the Tigers napping down the short side, with Sosaia Feki touching down after a Ricky Leutele offload.
Ennis scored one himself in the 30th minute when he was able to dart out of dummy-half from close range and overpower two Tigers defenders, much to the delight of the Sharks faithful.
The Sharks kept applying the pressure in the second stanza and a simple numbers play allowed winger Holmes to race 20 metres towards the corner in the 43rd minute.
The Tigers looked to turn around the momentum when lock Martin Taupau scored in the 50th minute. They further closed the gap in the 59th when back-rower Curtis Sironen desperately grubber-kicked for himself and picked it up off the ground to score – cutting the Sharks' lead to six.
However an error from Tiger Kyle Lovett was all Holmes needed to end the visitors' fightback, the speedster scooping up the loose ball and outrunning Simona to sprint 60 metres and score under the uprights.
A break from Jayson Bukuya, who then passed on to Wade Graham, saw the club's vice-captain score with six minutes remaining while a Gordon try three minutes later proved the cherry on top for Sharks fans.
Sharks coach Shane Flagan praised his team's mental toughness in withstanding the Tigers' comeback.
"We played well in the first half and they came back there through a few of our errors and it was unfortunate at the time but we had the mental toughness to hang in there and we did what we needed to do in the end," Flanagan said.
"Credit to them for coming back with a bit of momentum but we just held in there and got the job done."
Wests Tigers coach Jason Taylor said his team's slow start was costly.
"There were way to many errors in the game for us. It was a by-product of opposition jumping us right from the start.
"The Sharks started the game strongly, we didn't see the ball for seven or so minutes and we were behind on the scoreboard before we got it and we were chasing the game from there."
Cronulla Sharks 40 (Valentine Holmes 2, Luke Lewis, Sosaia Feki, Michael Ennis, Wade Graham, Michael Gordon Tries; Michael Gordon 6 Goals) defeated Wests Tigers 18 (Tim Simona, Martin Taupau, Curtis Sironen Tries; Pat Richards 3 Goals) at Remondis Stadium. Crowd: 15,738. Half-time: Sharks 20-6.