Canberra kept their finals hopes alive with a dominant 30-12 win over the premiers at Southern Cross Group Stadium on Saturday night.
Canberra win with Papa in the bin
When Josh Papalii was marched in the 56th minute for tackling Paul Gallen from an offside position, Cronulla committed footballing harakiri but losing the ball off the very first play. Unbelievably, that would be the last time they would have possession throughout the whole 10 minutes Canberra were undermanned. The Raiders held the ball and held it some more and the Sharks gave away penalty after penalty to help Canberra into attacking range and line up penalty goal after penalty goal. Five penalties awarded and three penalty goals scored in that 10 minutes meant the Raiders won the tricky period at a canter and in doing so racked up an insurmountable lead.
Wait and see on Bird injury
The most worrying news out of the match for Sharks fans is that centre Jack Bird was taken off six minutes before full-time with a shoulder injury. The Blues Origin utility looked in agony as he writhed on the ground getting attention from a club trainer after landing awkwardly on his shoulder in a tackle, sparking fears of a dislocation and possible lengthy layoff. Speaking after the game, Sharks coach Shane Flanagan said the injury may not be as bad as it first appeared.
"I'm not quite sure [what the injury is]," Flanagan said.
"Jack has a bit of a shoulder complaint there, we'll monitor it over the next 24 hours but I don't think it's as bad as it first seemed."
Sharks and Raiders trade away wins
For whatever reason – or perhaps no reason at all other than a quirk of results – the Sharks and Raiders just can't seem to beat the other team while on home soil. Saturday night's result takes the number of consecutive games in which the away team has been victorious when these two clubs meet to nine. It was Canberra's fourth straight win at 'Shark Park'; their loss at the ground in May 2013 is the last time a home side has won a Cronulla v Canberra encounter. It is also the premiers' sixth loss in 11 games at home this year, an unfortunate record that may yet prove the difference between finish just inside or outside of the top four at the end of the regular season.
Canberra's forward momentum rolls through Sharks
Cronulla's star-studded forward pack was the key plank of their premiership charge last year and with almost every starter of representative quality, it has very few weaknesses. Canberra's huge pack can look a little unwieldy at times but it was potent on Saturday night, easily outmuscling their more-fancied opponents. Junior Paulo was a colossal handful, charging for a match-high 205 metres, busting three tackles and offloading twice. Josh Papalii was a weapon on the left edge, carving through for one try and notching 164 metres and five busts. Playing in the unfamiliar middle role, usual right-edge man Elliott Whitehead was also immense with 168 metres and 29 tackles. With Shannon Boyd also running 132 metres, four of the top five metre-getters from the whole game were Raiders forwards (the exception being Paul Gallen with 139 metres).
Telegraphed tries unravel Sharks
The most disappointing aspect of the loss for Flanagan was the wave of tries conceded in the first half that he believed his team should have been better at stopping. The Green Machine racked up four tries in a 25-minute period after going down 8-0 early. Josh Papalii hit a flat ball and marched through some flimsy defence, Jordan Rapana did better than Sosaia Feki under a Blake Austin bomb then received a short-side pass to dive over untouched before Josh Hodgson dummied into space after receiving a nice Whitehead offload.
"It was just a frustrating game and we came up with some uncharacteristic decisions on three tries," Flanagan said.
"There was three tries we should have handled, we knew they were coming. [Anybody] would have known BJ Leilua was going to come out and pass to Rapana on that side there and the other try to Josh Papalii. We knew they were all coming and we just didn't handle them so that was the disappointing thing for me. And the kick try so there was 18 points we just leaked in and it was all over after that."