The Sharks continued their winning streak of the last four weeks with a home victory over the Bulldogs on Sunday afternoon, for a game that saw Cronulla only clock up one more try than Canterbury, and Brett and Morris come away with all the Dogs’ points, only for Moses Mbye to miss every conversion in turn. The first try came from the visiting team, albeit on the back of some sterling Cronulla defence, with Chad Townsend leading a huge hit on Rhyse Martin that drove him back ten metres at the start of one of the more promising Canterbury-Bankstown sets of the night.
With the Sharks hemming them in, Mbye ended the set with one of his most damaging spiralling bombs in weeks – a kick that utterly defied Josh Dugan in his seventh game for Cronulla, and his first game back after sustaining a foot fracture in their win against the Titans earlier in the year. From there, the Dogs executed some well-timed movement out to the left edge, where Josh Morris was on the verge of passing to Brett Morris, marked by Valentine Holmes, in the left corner, only to skip over a low tackle from Jesse Ramien and put down the first four points himself.
It was a terrific way for Morris to score his hundredth try for the Bulldogs, with the replay showing just how deftly he’d pivoted off his left foot to get on the outside of Ramien, who has been pretty reliable in these defensive situations so far, but was totally outplayed here. Yet just as Dugan had opened up the Sharks, so Aaron Woods now opened up the Bulldogs, gifting the home team some immediate field position with a handling error on the restart.
At the end of the next set, Clay Priest got pinged for a late tackle on Townsend – not on the final kick of the set, but on the second last kick, since the Cronulla halfback managed to get back to his feet and scoot around for a grubber that would have guaranteed the Sharks a goal line dropout even if Priest hadn’t been called out. No surprise, then, that the home team chose to tap and go, and they made the same decision after Woods was called out for being offside a couple of tackles later.
With Woods having provided and then cemented this burst of Cronulla field position, the Sharkies more or less replicated the Bulldogs’ opening try, shifting the footy across to their left edge where Dugan got some catharsis with a cut-out pass that sailed over the Canterbury right edge defence to find Edrick Lee in the corner. With Marcelo Montoya caught slightly infield, there was just enough room for the ex-Raider to squeeze through and ground the Steeden in the left corner.
Townsend now made a spectacular sideline conversion – straight into the sunset – and the Sharks were two points ahead, consolidating further with one of the simplest, deftest and most elegant tryscoring formations of the series so far. At one level, there wasn’t a lot in it – a last tackle chip from Matt Moylan that caught Holmes on the chest – but the brilliance of the combination was how effortless it looked, as the Cronulla fullback ran a hard line to catch the footy calmly a metre out from the chalk, so perfectly had Moylan judged the distance and speed.
The Dogs had to come up with something good in response, and yet an injury to Josh Morris’ knee saw Brett move to the centres to try and take some of the pressure of a Sharks outfit that seemed to now be consolidating with every set. What Canterbury needed was an error – and they got one from Kurt Capewell, who laid the platform for the next try much as Dugan and Woods had earlier in the game, with a Kieran Foran grubber forcing Lee to pop the football into touch at the end of the next set.
Now it was Canterbury’s turn to consolidate, as they ran the Steeden from side to side, glimpsing the line with nearly every tackle but never quite able to poke their nose through, thanks in part to some really hard defensive efforts from Moylan. Finally, on the last set, Matt Frawley chose to pass the footy left again instead of kicking it, with a superb catch-and-pass from Mbye sending Brett Morris across in the corner, and leaving Ramien and Dugan powerless to stop the Canterbury no. 2, in a condensed version of the Cronulla decision that led to the Dogs’ first try.
While Moses hadn’t had the most consistent afternoon, this catch-and-pass was one of the best moment in the game, defying Holmes to contain it and barely seeming to touch the Canterbury fullback’s hands, so rapidly did he shift it over to the left. Three minutes out from the break, a string of Cronulla penalties – from Seumanufagai, Ramien (twice) and then Moylan – saw Moses boot through his first kick of the night, bringing the score to 10-10 as the players prepared to head for the sheds.
Yet despite the kick and catch-and-pass, Mbye lost the football ten seconds out from the break, leaving the Sharks with five seconds of possession. It was a good time for a field goal, and Moylan had a short, but Mbye got some closure by catching it on the full. Nevertheless, with Josh Morris off for good in the second stanza after exacerbating his injury just before the siren, the Dogs had their work cut out for them – as was made clear by the most extraordinary passage of play in the game so far.
It started with Holmes collecting the high ball and sending it across to Dugan, who shifted it left to Lee in turn. From there, the big winger started a burly movement up the field that saw Fifita put in one of his harder runs of the night. At the other end, Moylan booted through a grubber that Mbye caught on the full, only for a trio of Cronulla defenders to drive him back into the in goal area. Moments before he headed over the chalk, the Canterbury fullback opted for an offload for Frawley, only for his five-eighth to drop the ball as well, leaving it live for one of the defenders clustered over Mbye’s body to put a hand out and get it to ground.
At first, that’s just what Jayden Brailey seemed to have done, only for some fairly forensic examination of the replay footage to show that he’d committed a second knock on before popping the ball down. Still, the Bulldogs were spooked, and Woods just made things worse a couple of sets later when he tried to milk a penalty from Segeyaro, only to return possession to the Sharks after committing an incorrect play-the-ball in the process.
An enormous individual effort from Ramien now ensued, with the big backliner collecting the footy from Townsend about ffteen metres out from the line, and then fending off Holland and Woods, and trampling over Mbye, to slam down four more points, while apparently dodging his way around every other Canterbury-Bankstown player in the process. Ramien had been huge in defence over the second half, and there couldn’t have been a better way for him to make up for his misread of Josh Morris earlier in the game.
Nevertheless, Brett Morris got some revenge for his brother a couple of minutes later, at the back end of several of the most impressive Bulldogs sets of the second stanza. They started with a brave take under the high ball from Mbye, who reached out his hands for the footy despite leaving himself wide opening for a brutal impending tackle from Dugan. Moments later, Holland broke through the line, and found Mbye in place to continue his momentum, only for Matt Prior to commit a professional foul on the Canterbury fullback that somehow escaped the notice of the refs.
To make matters worse, Will Hopoate was penalised for a dangerous tackle at the other end of the field, and yet an intercept and dropped football from Moylan got the Dogs a second chance. They made the most of it, too, rapidly consolidating their field position and then sending the ball along to the left edge, where a terrific cut-out pass from Klemmer to Holland set up Brett Morris to just beat Holmes and Townsend to reach out a hand and get the Steeden over the line.
Before this point, Morris had only scored two tries, but he’d now doubled it in a single game, making it doubly disappointing when Prior crossed over a couple of sets later, especially on the back of his unchecked professional foul on Mbye earlier in the second half. As if to show Klemmer that the Cronulla big men could hold their own right on the line as well, Prior collected the footy about ten metres out and briefly dummied before targeting Jeremy Marshall-King as the player least likely to contend with him and then slammed through him to get Cronulla four more points.
At first the try didn’t look quite right, partly because of the surprise of seeing a forward come right up over the chalk like this, and partly because the way Prior got to ground momentarily looked as if it might constitute a double movement under additional pressure from Klemmer and Holmes, who had rushed in to give their hooker a hand. Yet the replay cleared it all, for one of the oddest tries of the night, but also one of the most frustrating for the away team and their fans.
Things got even more agonising for the blue and white faithful when Foran appeared to have broken through a low tackle from Paulo to reach out a hand and just plant the footy on the chalk, in what would have been a perfect fusion of Morris and Prior’s previous efforts if it had gone through. Yet despite an on field call of try, the footage showed that Foran had come short, and had actually knocked the ball on in the process, gifting the Sharks possession once again with eight minutes left to go.
It was small consolation to the Bulldogs, then, that Paulo was responsible for a no try call a couple of sets later, dropping the ball onto the ground before he kicked it right on the try line, as the video refs declined to treat it as an iteration of the eccentric movement that Billy Slater had showcased at suncorp. With a final scoreline of 22-14, then, this was one of Canterbury’s more frustrating losses of the year, since they could have won this, and probably should have – and will be looking for a better outcome when they take on the Tigers at ANZ next Sunday afternoon.