Sharks v Knights: Five key points
The Sharks made it 15-straight with a dominant win over the cellar-dwelling Newcastle Knights. The form of Ben Barba, a fired-up Cronulla skipper Paul Gallen and the luckless Jarrod Mullen were some of the key talking points to come from the match on Sunday afternoon.
First v last battle pans out as expected
The Sharks were guilty of playing to the Knights' level at times but there was never any real doubt over whether the competition leaders would fail to improve their already amazing winning run. Despite their whopping 20 errors and nine penalties conceded (to the Knights' 13 errors and further nine penalties) it was a stop-start affair. Sharks coach Shane Flanagan had mixed feeling over his side's performance.
"We had patches and we scored some good tries but we probably conceded too many errors in possession. We turned the ball over far too much and against a good side, you can't do that," Flanagan said.
"In saying that, if Newcastle weren't presenting us with so many opportunities, we wouldn't have pushed the pass. It's a really fine line for the players – if they're feeling a half-opportunity, they probably push it so I'm not overly concerned."
Barba shines again
Ben Barba's form will forever be compared to his stellar Dally M Medal-winning 2012 season, and on Sunday afternoon he went a long way to replicating that. The Sharks fullback scored twice, was denied another two tries and offset that by setting up a further two four-pointers. Much has been said about Barba losing a touch of speed over the seasons, but he did well to burn the likes of Dane Gagai and Brendan Elliot on numerous occasions.
"He was our best player," Flanagan insisted. "Ben organised our defensive line well, he was dangerous with the ball and he's in fine form at the moment. He's been working really hard at it and he's in a good place."
Another injury for Mullen to contend with
Knights veteran playmaker Jarrod Mullen failed to return after half-time when his already battered hamstring kept him from playing on. Mullen's latest injury concern is nothing new to the five-eighth, who has managed to play just 36 of the Knights' past 75 games. Newcastle coach Nathan Brown was unsure if Mullen's latest setback would keep him out in the weeks to come.
"We're not sure if it's scar tissue from the same hamstring he injured or another problem there," Brown said. "But obviously we couldn't afford to take the risk with him."
Gallen-Barnett exchange adds fire to first half
Gallen's fiery exchanges with Knights back-rower Mitchell Barnett added plenty of intrigue to the first half. With the Sharks only able to chalk up a 10-0 lead at that stage, Barnett wasn't taking a backward step. While the Newcastle back-rower made a beeline for Gallen on several occasions, the veteran wasn't even sure who was out for him.
"I shouldn't have reacted like I did, he's a winger," Gallen said.
"He's a back-rower," Flanagan corrected him.
"Wasn't it, (Nathan) Ross? No? Well there you go," Gallen replied. "I don't even know his name so that's how much I care."
Brown however was full of praise for the 22-year-old Barnett.
"He certainly takes it to the opposition," he said. "He's not bothered by names or reputations and he certainly gives us a lot of what we need."
Levi's bravery a testament to Knights' heart
Newcastle hooker Danny Levi was booked in for season-ending surgery following the Knights' devastating 29-25 loss to Canberra a fortnight ago. But an injury to fellow rake Tyler Randell (ribs) meant not only did the future Kiwis representative have to postpone surgery, he's been required to continue playing. For a player – who has just one win from his 22 NRL games – to go about his business with little fuss proves the future remains bright.
"Danny's not great. Everyone's aware he needs back surgery. It won't get any worse but it won't get any better either. He can get by at this minute, but he needs to have surgery at some stage so he can get back and have a full pre-season," Brown said.
"I would think he won't last the season but at the moment we need him. We brought Chris Adams in from Lakes United so he's doing a good job there."