Sharks v Titans: Five key points
A bruising contest at Southern Cross Stadium on Sunday afternoon saw the Sharks withstand a spirited Titans fight back. Here are five talking points from the 25-20 win.
Bunker draws Henry's ire
Another video decision has failed to please a coach after full-time and on this occasion it was Titans coach Neil Henry who was dissatisfied with the review officials' view that James Maloney did not knock the ball on in the lead-up to the opening try of the match, a length-of-the-field effort to Ben Barba in the sixth minute.
There was a suggestion Maloney – facing his own try-line – attempted to scoop up a loose ball and in doing so dragged it towards himself and in the process propelled the ball towards his opponents' try-line, which should have constituted a knock on in the view of the Gold Coast camp.
"I don't know. Did Maloney drag the ball towards himself for the first try? I don't know," Henry shrugged post-game.
"They've got a thousand views up there. My TV wasn't too good."
He also suggested a call to overturn a knock-on ruling against Cronulla's Andrew Fifita late in the game returning a kick-off in favour of a stripping penalty against his team – which eventually led to Valentine Holmes' match-sealing try – was dubious.
"There was an overturn on a call off the kick off, that came from somewhere, whether the on-field guys have got a lost ball in a tackle," Henry said.
"That is a big turning point because they went down and scored, Holmes scored in the corner; we were fighting for a bit of field position."
Fifita for Origin?
Wrecking ball Andrew Fifita was, well, classic Fifita on Sunday afternoon. At his bustling best with ball in hand he broke eight tackles and racked up 160 metres, offloading three times, making a clean line break once and pouncing on a kick to score a try.
He also gave away a silly penalty right at the start of the game for crowding in a play-the-ball, was lucky not to cough up an error and hand the Titans a full set at the Sharks line right after they finally reclaimed the lead 21-20 via a Chad Townsend field goal (the officials found cause for a stripping penalty) and his long-range line break finished with him tackled short of the line then losing the ball before he could play it.
But the net result was well and truly in the positives for the Sharks on this occasion, with Fifita's 'X-factor' contributing heavily to a Sharks victory – especially given the extra work required of him with Luke Lewis and James Maloney both taken off concussed in the first half placing pressure on the team's interchanges.
"If he keeps performing like he is [ready to return to Origin]," his captain Paul Gallen said afterwards.
"Obviously he's just got to put consistent performances together. Big body like that, playing the way he is, when he just runs hard. When he runs straight, you see how effective he is. He's just got to do that week in, week out. And there's no reason he can't get back there.
"We just don't need him doing the cross-field runs and the five-eighth-type plays. I think the past month, when he runs straight and hard, he's very effective. There's no reason if he keeps going the way he is, he can't get back there."
Slow starts cruelling Titans
While Gold Coast coach Neil Henry was in part pleased by the resilience his team showed to come back from 14-0 down early to hit the lead in the second half, he said the players can't continue to give away big starts if they want to be competitive.
"Our starts, we've done that I think all but the first round against the Knights, we've come from behind and conceded early points," Henry said.
"That's something we need to address, we can't be trying to play catch-up footy. But the boys were gallant. They hung in, came back, I thought at 18-14 we needed to make the most of a couple of repeat sets in attack to kick away a bit more, maybe put the game at panic stations for the Sharks where they were chasing a few more points but we didn't take that opportunity.
"We lost our way a bit in attack and really that was it. We were long odds at the back end there with the last three or four minutes and needed to produce something pretty special to get out of it. Couldn't do it."
Hit on Barba questioned by Sharks
Man of the moment Greg Bird didn't just flatten good mate James Maloney on Sunday – Sharks fullback Ben Barba copped a hit as he attempted to field a bomb.
Barba spilled the ball but it seemed academic as a penalty was awarded for tackling the catcher in mid-air – though examination by the bunker found Barba's toe had just touched down by the time of impact meaning the shot was legal, the knock on was played and instead the Titans were awarded a penalty after a Sharks player cleaned up from an offside position.
It proved crucial, handing them a chance to level up at 20-all late in the contest.
"Are you trying to get me in trouble?" Flanagan smiled when asked about it in the press conference.
"He had one foot on the ground. We've got to protect our kickers, but that's it. Mate I don't want to bang on about – there's a couple of other ones there – we won the game. We didn't play to our best, we made some poor decisions and we always knew they were going to come and not go away. That's the sort of team they are. We got the two competition points and we didn't play to our best."
Rookie Titans halves impress
With senior men Tyrone Roberts and Kane Elgey sidelined, it was left to youngster Ash Taylor and debutant Cameron Cullen to steer the visitors around and though they didn't get the result the pair were eye-catching in terms of their composure and maturity with each scoring a try, putting their bodies on the line in defence and kicking well.
"I thought he was brave and busy," was Henry's assessment of debutant Cullen.
"It's a tough assignment coming here on debut and I thought getting over the try-line, put his body on the line in a collision there or two, he can hold his head up high and so can his family and friends from that effort."
Henry also praised Taylor's short kicking game, which helped his side force four drop outs (against none conceded).
"Short kicks – he's very good isn't he, that's one thing he can do well. And defensively he's solid," Henry said of Taylor.
"He tried to lift us a little bit. There's no doubt we missed the experience of Tyrone and Kane, we haven't got those two guys but that's not the reason we're losing games."