The power of Paul Gallen and the speed of Valentine Holmes lifted the Cronulla Sharks to a 24-16 win over the Wests Tigers at Southern Cross Group Stadium on Sunday.
The visitors ground their way to a 10-2 halftime advantage but a three-try burst inside a 10 minute period in the second half from Cronulla blew the game open before a late Jesse Ramien try sealed the result inside the final five minutes.
Gallen produced arguably his best game of the year with a try and try assist to go with 42 tackles and almost 200 metres.
Fullback Valentine Holmes overcame a poor first half to produce a couple of stunning runs – including a long-range try – in the second half.
For the Tigers, five-eighth Benji Marshall was ruled out pre-game with a calf injury that is expected to keep him out for a couple of weeks. That handed Josh Reynolds his first start of the year, and the former Bulldog produced plenty of energy and some nice touches.
Match: Sharks v Wests Tigers
Round 14 -
Venue: PointsBet Stadium, Sydney
The high points for the visitors came from the busy centre pairing of Esan Marsters and Mahe Fonua, who each gave the Sharks headaches. But it proved to be a few defensive wobbles in the second half in the face of an improved Cronulla performance that cost them.
The Tigers opened the afternoon running into a driving wind and rain and with errors in both their opening two sets but some impressive scrambling defence combined with some sloppiness from their opponents helped them to a better share of the first half.
The visitors finished with 55 percent of the first half ball with help from eight Sharks errors, taking a 10-2 advantage to the break.
Their first two scoring plays were penalty goals, but they opted against a third penalty goal in the 20th minute instead opting to attack the line.
The decision reaped immediate rewards as Elijah Taylor threw a huge dummy from dummy-half then burrowed his way between Jayson Bukuya and Holmes for the only try of the opening 40 minutes.
Otherwise, the first stanza was largely a battle of attrition, with Luke Lewis scratched from the game midway through the half with a concussion and the Tigers losing Michael Chee Kam to the sin bin in the 33rd minute due to repeated infringements.
Holmes had an unhappy first stint backing up from Origin, producing the handling error that handed the Tigers attacking position to score their try before also missing the tackle, but got the second half kick-started in impressive fashion with a stunning 40-metre kick return to get his team out of trouble.
A couple of sets of good field position later and the Sharks hit back through skipper Paul Gallen, showing plenty of strength at the line to push through three Tigers defenders and plan the ball in the 49th minute.
Holmes then went 60metres better than his earlier kick return, hitting a nice Gallen pass at full pace and scorching through a scattered Tigers line to sprint the length of the field and score, handing the Sharks the lead for the first time in the match after 56 minutes.
The Sharks completed a nine-minute team hat-trick shortly after, rolling down the field with the help of a penalty before Wade Graham forced a drop out which led to Matt Moylan tossing a nice ball over the top to put Edrick Lee in the corner.
The Tigers weren't going away though and reduced the margin to 18-16 when a Luke Brooks short ball sent Chris Lawrence streaming through a gap with Tui Lolohea backing up to score in the 66th minute.
The Sharks muscled up in the final 15 minutes to ensure the Tigers were starved of attacking chances and instead it was a late try to Jesse Ramien, off a nice Holmes pass from a play started by a big Fifita carry and offload, that resulted in the centre beating several defenders to run 30 metres and score the match-winner.
News & Notes: Benji Marshall was a late withdrawal with a calf injury (set for 2-3 weeks on the sidelines) handing Josh Reynolds his first run-on start of the season... Luke Lewis was ruled out for the game after 20 minutes due to a concussion... Val Holmes now has seven tries in his past four games... Sharks next week at home to Brisbane... Wests Tigers host Canberra next Sunday... Crowd: 13,093
Holmes races 90 metres for try