The Cronulla Sharks won their 12th consecutive game, a club record, in defeating the gutsy Parramatta Eels 34-24 on Saturday.
It was a match of strong runs and erratic defence, see-sawing wildly as first Parramatta then Cronulla dominated the run of play.
Semi Radradra controversially played for the Eels – there had been plenty of media commentary saying he should be dropped – but it was the left-winger Bevan French who stole the spotlight for the Eels in the first 11 minutes with two exhilarating tries. Parramatta’s first try came after just five minutes when French, on the receiving end of a Corey Norman grubber kick, skilfully gathered and grounded the ball down in one fluid motion. His next came off a long-range intercept in the 12th minute, putting the Eels 12-0 ahead.
Ten minutes later Danny Wicks crossed for the Eels’ third unanswered and converted try, stunning the Sharks and their home fans. But Paul Gallen’s shaken team swiftly regathered its wits, starting a fightback that showed why they are this season’s frontrunners. Sosaia Feki led the way, crossing in the 26th, then Ricky Leutele and Gerard Beale followed within 10 minutes, restoring balance. After a penalty goal by James Maloney at half-time the Eels, their 18-point lead all but wiped out, were on the back foot yet again.
Just minutes after the break Cronulla had stolen the lead through a second try to Leutele. Missed opportunities on both sides left the game in the balance till the last 11 minutes, when a spate of tries brought some more see-sawing that kept fans on the edge of their seats. First, Beale crossed for his second in the 69th, then French completed his hat-trick for the night. It wasn’t until the 79th, when Feki crossed for his second, that the Sharks finally put the game beyond the Eels’ reach.
Feki, returning from injury, had a great game, showing up the Eels defence with his strength and footwork. For the Eels, French’s performance was a ray of sunshine after another appalling week of reverses and controversy.
New Zealand Warriors shade Gold Coast Titans
The Warriors got off to an awful start on Saturday when a poorly executed punt from Blake Ayshford went straight to Titans flyer Josh Hoffman, who sprinted nearly 90 metres to open the Titans’ account. Ayshford redeemed himself soon after, intercepting near his own line and matching the Hoffman run to score in the 10th. Nene Macdonald put the Titans ahead in the 18th after winning a contest in-goal, but before half-time the Warriors again levelled when right winger Tuimoala Lolohea scored. The sides went in locked at 10-10.
The second half was a bit more open though there was nothing but penalties scored until the 66th, when the Warriors started to assert themselves and break free. Shaun Johnson was first to step up, showing glittering form to score a try. He added to his tally with a field goal in the final minute. Warriors hard-man Bodene Thompson scored a try against his old club to extend the lead, but Cameron Cullen, in only his third game for the Titans, managed to narrow the gap a bit with a try in the 76th. Johnson’s field goal took the final score to a 27-18 win.
A devastating ankle injury to the Titans 21-year-old debutant centre Karl Lawton dampened the mood in the second half. The youngster, in agony after a bruising tackle was taken from the field on a medicab for assessment in hospital. A tweet from the club said he dislocated the ankle but there may also have been a break.
Melbourne Storm embarrass Brisbane Broncos
The Storm were in complete control throughout this Friday night match, which ended in the Broncos’ highest losing margin at Suncorp, 48-6. It was the Broncos worst defeat since a 56-18 drubbing by the New Zealand Warriors in 2013. The Storm have now won 10 of their last 11 games against the Broncos. The Broncos have lost two consecutive games by margins of 40 points or more.
Melbourne rookie winger Suliasi Vunivalu scored a hat-trick taking his try-tally to 16 in just 10 games. Cameron Smith did not miss a conversion and followed the mantra that coach Craig Bellamy pushes: know your role and do your job. The Storm put on five tries in the first half and blew the Broncos away. Cooper Cronk had his hand in four tries, outclassing the Broncos in the process. The Broncos only try came in the 38th minute when the fastest player in the game, James Roberts streaked away to score.
The second half was one-way traffic as the Storm blitzed the Broncos with three more tries. Errors and silly penalties were the downfall for the Broncos with halves Ben Hunt and Anthony Milford seemingly showing a lack of engagement. The Broncos really missed Sam Thaiday’s experience and the rampaging runs he delivers to get his team over the advantage line. Thaiday was serving a one-match ban for a lifting tackle on Paul Gallen in Origin two.
Bulldogs too strong for Roosters
The Roosters, with most possession in the first 15 minutes had the Bulldogs back-pedalling from the start at Allianz Stadium on Thursday night. Pearce set up the first try with a crossfield kick for Daniel Tupou to fly up above the pack and score in the seventh. A penalty goal by Sio Siua Taukeiaho in the 19th made up for a missed conversion. The Roosters kept pushing until a Pearce pass in the Roosters’ half sent Latrell Mitchell through a gap in the defence. His pace and determination over 60 metres paid off and the Roosters had their second try in the 22nd.
Josh Reynolds and David Klemmer were instrumental in getting the Dogs’ attack back on track, frustrating the Roosters who started making errors and giving away penalties. A perfectly executed setplay by Moses Mbye and Reynolds sent the ball to the right just 15 metres out, creating an overlap for Curtis Rona to score the Dogs’ first try. Brett Morris then combined with brother Josh to score his first of the night. Moses Mbye converted both tries to send the teams in at 12-all.
The Roosters scored through a penalty to Jackson Hastings seven minutes into the second but poor discipline cost them vital opportunities and points. Tupou might have had a try off a Pearce pass but he took his eye off the ball and dropped it. Josh Jackson went over for the Dogs in the 56th minute. Four minutes later the Morrises combined again giving Brett his fifth try since returning from injury last week. Morris seemed set for his second consecutive hat-trick but was denied by a remarkable one-on-one tackle by Pearce who dragged the bigger man across the sideline. With four minutes remaining Pearce set up one more try, putting Tupou over for his second of the night, but the Dogs held on to win 24-20 and almost certainly end the Roosters’ hopes of reaching the finals. – Jesse Mullens
Wests Tigers 34-26 Penrith Panthers
Canberra Raiders 29-25 Newcastle Knights
North Queensland Cowboys 20-0 South Sydney Rabbitohs
Manly Sea Eagles 36-6 St George Illawarra Dragons
Photo of the Cronulla Sharks players celebrating their win from the Cronulla Sharks’ Twitter feed.