Sharks v Eels: Five Key Points
In a topsy-turvy game the Eels exploded out of the blocks and raced to an 18-0 lead before a huge momentum swing and 28 unanswered points to the home side decided the contest. A late try to the Eels kept things interesting only for Cronulla to skip away again to race out 34-24 winners.
A record for the club and for the fans
Never before in Cronulla's history has the team won 12 straight matches. The previous record of 11 was achieved most recently in 2002 and skipper Paul Gallen appeared in all 11 of those in what was his first full NRL season.
Having notched up the landmark on Saturday night, Gallen said while it was great for the fans he'd happily hand the record back if it guaranteed a 2016 Grand Final berth.
"We've got a special side, we know that. As a playing group we just want to take it week to week, I know it's a special thing for the club and a special thing for the fans but I said out there, I would give it back to make sure I'm playing the first week in October and that's what we want to do," Gallen said.
Coach Shane Flanagan made special mention of the milestone after the game.
"I definitely am [proud]. I just said to all the staff and management and all the playing group, it's a great achievement but in the end I just come to work every day and it's a pleasure to come to work," Flanagan said.
"If I didn't have a really good bunch of players and a talented group of players we wouldn't be able to achieve it. It's hard in this competition to turn up each week with that mindset that you've got to win and they've done it for 12 weeks in a row so all the playing group need to be congratulated."
Eels unearth another flyer
Young winger Bevan French has rugby league royalty in his family and more than a touch of famous relatives Nathan Blacklock and Preston Campbell in his playing style. Although French's fourth NRL game brought him the first taste of defeat in his young NRL career to date it also brought him his fourth, fifth and sixth NRL tries.
Seven tries in four games puts him in elite company but it wasn't all rosy as French's side of the field was picked apart by the Sharks' left-side attack in conceding four tries and coach Brad Arthur was understandably reluctant to get carried away with the youngster's bright start.
"He's got plenty of pace and you can't coach speed," Arthur said.
"He's doing ok, still got a fair bit to learn, especially in defence but it's the only way he's going to learn is being under pressure in those situations. We're happy with him. He needs to continue to work on some defensive principles and working with his inside defender but he's getting better."
Leutele's big day out finishes early
Sharks centre Ricky Leutele has been one of the more unheralded members of Cronulla's all-conquering 2016 season-to-date but he was in everything on Saturday and was close to the best player on the field – before an ankle sprain ended his night 50 minutes in.
Leutele scored twice himself and set up one of winger Sosaia Feki's tries and was a huge part of the reason why Parramatta's right edge defence had such a tough night.
After the game, Flanagan said he hoped Leutele would be fit for the next game – especially given he is likely to be missing several stars due to Origin – but admitted the centre would be racing the clock.
"He's just got a low ankle sprain. We're going to be missing a few troops next week so hopefully he'll be right for next week. At first thought it's not that bad but he'll be racing the clock to get ready for next week so let's touch wood that he's all right," Flanagan said.
Semi quiet after tough fortnight
Embattled Eels winger Semi Radradra flew back to Sydney from Fiji on Thursday night and made the captain's run on Friday morning following an intense fortnight of media speculation about his future and revelations he is facing domestic violence charges – which his manager has indicated Radradra will fight.
The day before the game, Arthur said Radradra would have the option of sitting out the match but the winger opted to play.
Radradra was well handled by Cronulla and though there was some intent in a few of his late carries, his final return – 122 metres from 16 runs with a single offload and no tackle busts or tries – was well down on his regular output. In his three previous starts Radradra averaged almost 200 metres per game and racked up 21 tackle busts and eight offloads with two tries.
Arthur brushed off suggestions Radradra was underdone while both coaches suggested the Sharks had handled him well.
"Semi's been doing plenty of training in Fiji so it wasn't that. The Sharks did a good job on him, they ended up getting three and four into him every time. In the second half, late in the game he had some good carries that got us on the front foot but early they did a fair job on him," Arthur said.
Flanagan pointed out his troops had done "a fair job" on 2015's top try-scorer.
"Give credit to our boys, every time he carried the ball we had a plan how we needed to defend him and they did that really well," Flanagan said.
"They got to him quickly and got into his legs and stopped his offload so credit to our boys, I thought they did a real good job on him."
Fans turn out in droves for record-breaking effort
The 19,142 fans who turned up on a cold winter's night saw history made. It was just four individuals short of the 19,146 who rocked up in Round 26 last year and it was the fourth highest attendance at the ground in the past decade.
Gallen said he noticed the throng well before he reached the ground.
"Coming from home, driving down Gannon's Rd and there's cars all the way down to the end of it and cars parked all up Captain Cook Drive," he said.
"It took me an extra 10 minutes to get here because of the traffic out the front. It's a good feeling and everyone loves a winner so we're going all right at the moment."