Sharks survive French blitz to claim record
The 2016 Cronulla Sharks remain unbeaten at home and have now claimed the record for most consecutive wins in the club's history after coming back from an early 18-0 deficit to down Parramatta 34-24 on Saturday night.
A heaving 19,142-strong crowd was silenced by an early Bevan French double but once the Sharks clicked into gear they ran 28 unanswered points either side of half-time.
Despite the lighting-quick 20-year-old searing through for his third late in the game to close the gap to 28-24, setting up a grandstand finish in the final five minutes, Cronulla got one final try a minute from time through winger Sosaia Feki to ice the victory and the record.
The Eels had stunned the home side early via a quick double to try-scoring prodigy French who now has seven tries in just four NRL games.
First he produced a slick grounding from a deft Corey Norman grubber behind the Sharks' try-line in just the fifth minute, then when Ricky Leutele failed to latch onto a Maloney cut-out the young Tingha speedster swept onto the loose ball, tiptoed down the right touch line and streaked away for a 12-0 lead after as many minutes.
When Danny Wicks crashed onto a flat Isaac De Gois dummy-half pass next to the sticks the Sharks were all at sea and down by 18 as a result of the early onslaught.
Cronula's Origin prop Andrew Fifita – who produced a few lazy efforts in defence in the opening 20 minutes and was complicit in Wicks's try – then flicked the switch and produced some monstrous runs, especially coming out of Sharks territory.
He finished his opening half hour spell with six tackle busts, 82 metres and an offload and was pivotal in dragging his side back into the contest.
With momentum shifting the Sharks had particular success attacking Parramatta's right side defence and they scored down that channel through winger Sosaia Feki in the 26th minute off a regulation overlap.
They had more success in the same spot five minutes later – again set up by a big Fifita charge – when centre Rickey Leutele sliced through.
It became three tries in 10 minutes shortly after when a bobbling ball from a cross field James Maloney bomb bounced off several sets of hands before landing with Gerard Beale who dived over to bring it back to 18-14 and three tries apiece with Michael Gordon's superior goal-kicking the difference.
Another left side raid forced a repeat set and when Cronulla drew a penalty right on half-time it was an easy decision to take the two to make it 18-16 at the break.
With the wind finally at their backs in the second half the Eels weren't able to capitalise as the Sharks added another try – Leutele's second – with another left-side raid in the 45th minute to claim the lead for the first time in the game.
The home side also muscled up in defence through a patch where they scored four consecutive tries in 10 consecutive completed sets. With the Eels starting to come up with errors after completing 15 out of 16 sets in the first half they were completely hemmed in their own end for a 20 minute period where Cronulla's best chance was ruled no-try due to a Paul Gallen double movement.
Though they defended desperately the pressure mounted further as the half went on something had to give and it was Beale's second try in the 68th minute that looked to be the clincher.
But the Eels weren't done and the much-needed spark came from that man French who produced a piece of magic to put himself in space and streak away in the 73rd minute to set up a tense finish before yet another left-side shift from the Sharks put Feki in space to seal the deal.
Cronulla Sharks 34 (Leutele 2, Feki 2, Beale 2 tries; Maloney 5 goals) defeated Parramatta Eels 24 (French 3, Wicks tries; Gordon 4 goals) at Southern Cross Group Stadium. Half-time: Eels 18-16. Crowd: 19,124.