The Sharks outlasted Wests Tigers in a high-scoring affair at Campbelltown Stadium on Saturday night. James Tedesco recovered from an early head knock to once again play a starring role in attack, while the Sharks' imposing forwards laid the platform for their flashy backs to flourish.
Gallen's knee passes first test
Having missed the past three weeks with a knee injury, Sharks skipper Paul Gallen made his long-awaited return in Saturday night's eight point win.
Starting from the bench, Gallen churned out 156 metres, made 20 tackles and scored a crucial try midway through the second-half to help his side retake the lead.
And in further good news for Cronulla fans, it seems like Gallen's knee pulled up as well as they could have hoped.
"It's pretty good after a win obviously. I can't complain about it at all. It's going to be up and down for a few weeks but it was good today," Gallen said.
"It's good to be back. Obviously we didn't start the way I wanted to personally but the boys are going good and had a good win today."
Sharks coach Shane Flanagan praised the leadership shown by the senior group – including Gallen – to help his side overturn a half-time deficit.
"I got some messages down to blokes like Gal and Michael Ennis and Luke Lewis," he said.
"We've got a pretty senior side, so the message was keep our heads. There were a few scuffles there, so we had to keep our heads and play footy, and they did. So I was proud about them for that."
Tedesco down but not out
Wests Tigers fullback James Tedesco overcame an injury scare in the opening minute to once again give his State of Origin ambitions a major boost.
Having run into the knees of Luke Lewis with his first carry, Tedesco was escorted from the field sporting a lump on his right temple.
"I sort of copped a bit of a knock in the ribs and the head," Tedesco said.
"It was a bit annoying that it was the first touch, but I got through the tests alright. I wasn't too dazed, it was just a bit of a head knock, but you've got to take those precautions.
"It's a bit sore. There's a bit of a lump there, but I got through the game alright. We've got an eight day turnaround, so I think I should be sweet for that.
The Tigers fullback had a whale of the game after returning to the field in the 16th minute, scoring a double and setting up another.
"I came out there and we had the ball straightaway, so it worked out well,' he said.
"That's a big part of my game in attack to create opportunities and I did that a bit, but probably not good enough in the end."
Barba does his Origin hopes no harm
While he was outpointed by opposite number James Tedesco, the Sharks No.1 delivered when it mattered most, scoring a try in the 70th minute that ultimately sealed the win.
Barba had a relatively quiet first-half, but exploded to life in the second-stanza, finishing the game with four tackle busts in another solid showing from the back.
Sharks coach Shane Flanagan says he's excited by what his fullback is producing, and predicted he will get even better when his combinations with the Sharks halves finally click.
"He's getting better. He bobs up in the right places; that's what quality players do. He scored that try when we needed it," Flanagan said.
"He's always a threat from the back and he's getting his confidence back. He's moving really well so it's only a bonus for us in the weeks ahead. His combinations are still building with our 6 and 7 [James Maloney and Chad Townsend].
Penalties take their toll on the Tigers
Wests Tigers coach Jason Taylor says discipline cost his side in the end. While they completed their sets at a passable 72 per cent, the Tigers were their own worst enemy without the ball, losing the penalty count 12-7.
It's an area of the game Taylor says his side needs to work on.
"In the end I think it was the penalties that hurt us with that possession rate.
"We made nine errors, it's not horrific. But it's probably too many when you have the amount of ball that we had.
"There were too many penalties, particularly late in the tackle count that hurt us."
Andrew Fifita the metre-eater
In a game dominated by the Cronulla forwards, no player stood out more than Andrew Fifita.
The form of the Sharks prop-forward has been telling in 2016, averaging over 150 metres and more than 30 tackles per game.
Fifita's coach paid tribute to the work done by his big man, especially his ability to eradicate the discipline issues that had plagued his game in previous years.
"I thought he played really well," Flanagan said.
"He's really concentrating on getting all the things that were getting him some poor publicity – or the wrong publicity – out of his game.
"He's really honing in and focussing in on what he needs to do. Week by week I think he's getting better. He didn't have any errors off the top of my head today."