Sharks outlast Eels in a thriller
Another clutch field goal from Valentine Holmes has helped the Sharks come from behind to steal a late 35-28 win at Pirtek Stadium to move into the top four for the first time this year in what was thrilling and tense game that featured several lead changes.
While a Michael Ennis try in the final seconds blew the score out it was a sensational finish to the game from Holmes – who got his side in range, forced a drop out, then iced a field goal – that proved the difference against a willing and attacking Eels outfit.
It was one of Parramatta's best performances of the year, with an outstanding kicking display from Corey Norman in general play and from Luke Kelly off the kicking tee.
However the Sharks as always refused to go away and despite falling behind after at one stage looking like earning a runaway win stuck to their tak to reclaim the lead inside the final five minutes.
It is Cronulla's first win in the annual Johnny Mannah Cup, played in honour of former Eels and Sharks forward Jon Mannah, brother of Eels skipper Tim, who passed away in 2013.
It was also the Eels' first game at Pirtek since downing the Dragons 16-12 all the way back in Round 16, two long months ago. In an eight-week stretch that included one bye, two 'home' games at ANZ Stadium and Darwin's TIO Stadium, and five away games, the Eels picked up three wins – one or two fewer than they realistically needed to keep their finals hopes alive.
The match started poorly for the home side – a near-perfect opening five minutes resulted with nothing to show for it other than Tepai Moeroa knocking on a grubber in the Sharks in-goal that would have led to points.
Instead it was the Sharks that struck first, making Parramatta's right-side defence look second rate. A simple left-side move behind a Wade Graham decoy run allowed Sosaia Feki to open the scoring in the seventh minute and they went back-to-back when centre Ricky Leutele crossed less than 10 minutes later on the same edge.
With back-rower Manu Ma'u off for the game with a shoulder injury the Eels dodged a bullet when the video referees found a knock on in the lead up to what would have been the Sharks' third try and instead the Eels raced downfield with Ryan Morgan cleaning up the scraps from a Corey Norman bomb.
Luke Lewis stretched the lead to 16-6 when he hit a Michael Ennis short ball at the line but another towering Norman bomb allowed try-scoring sensation Semi Radradra to score his 22nd four-pointer of the season.
The final try of the half came when Jason Bukuya supported a Jack Bird flick pass to make is 20-10 at the break.
A head clash ruled out Sharks centre and Parramatta's other starting second rower Teapi Moeroa right after half time.
The Eels started the second stanza the better though and a huge set of powerful hit ups and quick play the balls ended with Daniel Alvaro scoring his first NRL try.
Cronulla's decision to take a penalty goal and stretch their lead to six looked a poor one when Reece Robinson crossed shortly after to level the scores and when Isaac De Gois spun his way over from dummy half shortly after the Eels remarkably had the lead.
A series of clutch conversions from Luke Kelly helped his side to the 28-22 advantage but a grubber from the same man that was far too deep as his side looked to close out a win gifted Cronulla a seven-tackle set, and a pass from Blake Ayshford – called off the bench to replace Leutele in the centres – sent Sosaia Feki on a run to the line, Michael Gordon's cutch conversion levelling things up.
The dying stages of the match were dominated by youngster Valentine Holmes who seemingly has no idea what the word 'pressure' means. A soaring take from a bomb and a scoot downfield helped his side go on the attack, a deft grubber ahead when caught with it on the last forced a goal-line drop out, then yet another ice-cool field goal edged his side ahead 29-28.
Parramatta's short drop-out ended up with the Sharks and in the shadows of full-time Michael Ennis darted over from dummy half to put an exclamation point on the come-from-behind win.
Cronulla Sharks 35 (Feki 2, Leutele, Lewis, Bukuya, Ennis tries; Gordon 5 goals; Holmes field goal) defeated Parramatta Eels 28 (Morgan, Radradra, Alvaro, Robinson, De Gois tries; Kelly 4 goals) at Pirtek Stadium. Half time: Cronulla 20-10. Crowd: 13,007.