Young stars shine for both sides as the Sharks end their 'hoodoo' against the Sea Eagles. The key points to come from Cronulla's eight-point win at Southern Cross Group Stadium on Saturday night.
Sharks on fire in the Shire
Olympic Park in Melbourne used to be called the 'Graveyard'. Brookvale Oval has been dubbed the 'Fortress'. So is it time to give Southern Cross Group Stadium a foreboding nickname?
The Sharks are one of only two teams (Cowboys) to start the season 6-0 at home in 2016, with the Broncos (5-0) and Dragons (4-0) the only other teams to have won all their home games.
The club has set a new record for the number of members to join, with the figure passing 13,000 in the week leading into the match against Manly.
A bumper crowd of 16,601 were on hand to see their side topple the Sea Eagles on a chilly Saturday night in Sydney's south and it was their support that proved crucial with the game in the balance.
With the game knotted at 12-12, the parochial home crowd found their voice to earn their side a decisive penalty to nudge ahead by two.
Sharks skipper Paul Gallen thanked the fans for getting behind the team in 2016, crediting their support as one of the reasons behind the team's on-field success.
"We did a video throughout the week for them on how much we appreciate their support and how much we appreciate them turning up to home games," Gallen said.
"I think we got 16,000 again here tonight…so it's great to have them turn up and to find their voice at certain times it helps as well."
Sea Eagles let down by another slow start
A try to Tom Trbojevic just before half-time looked to have changed the momentum of the game as Manly exploded out of the blocks in the second half to overturn a 12-point deficit and level the scores up with nearly half an hour to play.
It followed a similar pattern to the Round 3 meeting between the sides when a 37th minute try to Matt Parcell provided the spark Manly needed to fight back from 8-0 down to eventually run out 10-point winners.
Sea Eagles back-rower Lewis Brown said the 40th minute try gave the team a huge boost heading into the sheds, but admitted the opening exchanges had ultimately cost them in the end.
"I thought we were coming to get them," a disappointed Lewis Brown said after the game.
"But as 'Baz' (Sea Eagles coach Trent Barrett) said, we shot ourselves in the foot a few times.
"I thought tonight we played for 50 minutes – you know that first 20 was pretty bad – and that last 10 we probably let them up our end a bit easy and they punished us.
"That last 10 in the first half, if we'd started the game like that then it could have been a different story."
Bird swoops into Origin calculations
He has only played 32 NRL games but according to his club coach and skipper, Jack Bird has done enough to earn a sky blue jersey in this year's State of Origin series.
The 21-year-old had a breakout season in the halves in 2015 to earn the Dally M Rookie of the Year Award and has embraced his move to right centre.
Speculation is rife that he is a chance to slot onto the bench for Game One on June 1.
"I reckon he's made for Origin," Sharks coach Flanagan said. "[He's] strong defensively and I'd pick him in the centres if I was picking the team.
"I might be a bit biased there but he's ready to go and he'll handle the situation. If they want to bring him off the bench he'll handle it. He can play a number of positions.
"He's not going to be overawed by it. He's going to play Origin at some stage – and a lot of it – so probably sooner the better."
Sharks and NSW skipper Paul Gallen agreed with his coach's sentiments, comparing the Origin bolter to one of his great mates who has starred at Origin level.
"He reminds me of a young Greg Bird to be honest. They've got that confidence where every time they walk on the field they believe they're the best player on the field. To Birdy's credit, he often shows it."
Trbojevic continues to go from strength to strength
The future of Manly looks to be in very safe hands after Tom Trbojevic put in another outstanding performance to confirm his status as one of the elite youngsters coming through the ranks.
Accustomed to playing wing or fullback, Trbojevic was shifted to left centre for the first time in his budding NRL career and didn't look out of place, scoring a try and running for a team-high 177 metres.
Despite playing in a beaten side, his efforts didn't go unnoticed by Sea Eagles mentor Trent Barrett.
"He's a footballer, Tommy. He can play anywhere and he's been one of our most consistent players all year, and for a kid who's 19 being asked to fill so many positions, he's done a terrific job," Barrett said.
"He's a fullback, we know that. But he's a very good player and you'd like to bottle him. He's a great player."
It's probably too soon to say the hoodoo is over, but the Sharks can breathe easy after earning just their second win over Manly since 2008.
Cronulla entered the game having won just one of the past 15 clashes against their northern beaches rivals in what was easily their worst record against any side.
Making things even more difficult was the risk of letting their guard down after having to back up from a 62-0 win the previous week.
Hooker Michael Ennis said the players spoke about maintaining their aggressive mindset leading into Saturday's showdown and was happy with his side's resolve when things looked to be going awry in the second half.
"We've been up for such a long time now, but I think our response was really pleasing," he told NRL.com.
"Talking about putting last week out of your mind and actually doing it are very different things, and early in that second half we probably took our foot off the pedal a bit.
"Thankfully we're a good enough side that we were able to wrestle back momentum after they got it to 12-all and we were able to get the win."