Injury blows for Tigers as Sharks clinch win
A late four-pointer to Chad Townsend has seen the Cronulla Sharks come from behind to beat an injury-ravaged Wests Tigers 22-16 at Leichhardt Oval.
After missing a spot in Mal Meninga's Australian side, Wade Graham was instrumental for the visitors to set up two tries and a defensive smother at the death as the Sharks were forced to come from behind on the back of a 7-2 penalty count against them.
In a game plagued by injuries, a chip kick and regather try from Townsend stole the show for the defending premiers as Shane Flanagan's men shot themselves in the foot several times against a 15-man Tigers outfit in the second half.
The joint venture suffered a double blow in the opening 40 minutes when both Aaron Woods (groin) and James Tedesco (head knock) were ruled out for the remainder of the contest.
The loss of the key duo wasn't the only injury concern with David Nofoaluma not at 100 percent throughout the game and noticeably struggling with a knee injury.
For the Sharks, Valentine Holmes also struggled for the premiers throughout the contest but provided the visitors with their third four-pointer of the evening to help level at 16-16 with a quarter of the game left.
Earlier Woods was greeted by a negative response from fans to begin the match as the Tigers scored two tries and a penalty in the opening half to take a four-point lead into the break.
Ivan Cleary's men opted for an early penalty goal when Matt Prior caught Elijah Taylor high in front of the posts, but their lead was shortly undone when Cronulla struck back with back-to-back tries through Tony Williams and Sosaia Feki.
The returning Williams burst through Luke Brooks and Michael Chee Kam on the right edge to score his 50th try in the Telstra Premiership and first in Sharks colours, before Feki went over in the left-hand corner after a bullet-like pass from Sharks back-rower Graham.
Tedesco was denied a four-pointer when Woods was ruled to have interfered with Paul Gallen at marker after Taylor found the Blues fullback into space.
Despite the controversial call the home side bounced back for next points with Luke Brooks producing a skillful pass for Kevin Naiqama to step inside and go over in the corner.
Cleary's side targeted the Sharks' left-edge again and Moses Suli ran through Feki and Jack Bird for the Tigers' second to ensure the joint venture took a lead into the break.
Cronulla had a chance to retake the lead early in the second half but Feki lost the ball with the try-line in sight, before Ava Seumanufagai was held up over the line as the Tigers went the length of the field to earn a penalty with Maloney again the man to concede.
Despite two errors late in the game, Andrew Fifita produced a solid display with 127 metres in his 150th Telstra Premiership game to put his hand up for an Australian jersey with Woods set to be unavailable.
Cronulla Sharks 22 (Williams, Feki, Holmes, Townsend tries; Maloney 3 goals) def. Wests Tigers 16 (Naiqama, Suli tries; Moses 4 goals) at Leichhardt Oval. Half-time: Wests Tigers 14-10. Crowd: 13,405.