Despite an early arm wrestle, the Sharks came away with a thirty point win over Gold Coast at Cbus on Saturday afternoon. The Titans had lost two key player in a training session during the week – Kevin Proctor with a bicep injury, Phillip Sami with a dislocated shoulder – but still got the first advantage three minutes in, when Tyrone Peachey caught an average Matt Moylan kick in goal to get his men seven tackles.
They swept left but Peachey couldn’t break through, changing the direction of play for Jamal Fogarty to kick to the right edge, where Bryson Goodwin was safe under the ball, leaping up to catch it on the full and tumbling back over the try line to avoid a dropout. Shaun Johnson tried to capitalise with a 40/20 on the next set, but he couldn’t quite get the angle, while Gold Coast got six again after Ash Taylor’s next kick was charged down.
Corey Thompson crossed over ten seconds later, but, in one of the early turning-points in the game, the try was denied due to a knock-on from Peachey in the regather. Braden Hamlin-Uele got a good offload away to Blayke Brailey halfway through the next set, Chad Townsend kicked on the last, and Tyrone Roberts lost it in goal for his first game in the fullback jersey since March, so Gold Coast were pretty lucky to get the first penalty of the match when Brailey was called offside downtown.
The Titans swept from side to side on this set, with Peachey making a promising flick pass to Thompson on the left edge, but the Sharks stayed safe, and now started building towards their first try with their first restart of the match. Johnson almost sent Briton Nikora through the line on play three, Hamlin-Uele nearly broke through Mitch Rein’s tackle on the fourth and Moeaki Fotuaika only just beat Aaron Woods to the ball on the last.
Still, the Sharkies had the first dropout of the game – and they made the most of it when Moylan sent Hamlin-Uele through a hole on the left edge. Momentum took the big prop over the line, as he rolled several times through an ankle tap from Keegan Hipgrave to get the footy down, bringing Cronulla to a six point lead once Johnson booted the first conversion through the posts.
Hamlin-Uele also took the first hit-up on the restart, and helped get an offside penalty from Fotuaika, but the Sharks didn’t get much of a chance with the additional field position, since Jack Williams coughed up the ball while trying to offload on the ground a tackle later. They didn’t opt for a Captain’s Challenge either, despite a clear hand in the ruck, as the Titans settled into another six again off a ruck infringement from Hamlin-Uele on play one.
Nevertheless, Wade Graham cleaned up Fogarty’s next kick pretty easily, reaching out a foot to prevent it skittering in goal – and this time Johnson got his 40-20, effectively allowing his men to continue their botched restart. They took the scrum centre field, and headed right on play one, where Johnson danced across the defence for about five seconds, tempting another offside penalty, this time from Peachey.
Cronulla got a restart on the next play, and yet Bryce Cartwright had the next touch of the footy, scooping up a wide pass from Brailey to Williams at point blank range. Carty took another carry on play two, Peachey broke through the line a moment later, and Jai Arrow impulsively went upstairs to contest the subsequent knock-on. The replay showed that Sione Katoa had got a hand to it first, but knocked it back, leaving Gold Coast with no challenges left in their arsenal.
In stark contrast, Peachey knocked on a Moylan pass on the next set, getting the Sharkies six again, and for a moment it looked like the ex-Panther was going to make it two for two with the try assist, finding as big a space for Williams as he had for Hamlin-Uele, only for the big lock forward to drop it cold. No surprise, then, that Gold Coast scored a sublime breakout try a minute later, when a Johnson pass to Townsend went too far back.
Thompson stormed in to scoop it up, bumped off Katoa at the forty, and was too far ahead of Moylan at the thirty to make the chase worth it, ending up with a scintillating ninety-metre run that got Gold Coast back into first gear for the first time since the opening minutes. Taylor added the extras, and the score was levelled, while the Sharks got a big blow when Moylan went off the park 29 minutes in with what appeared to be an inflammation of his ongoing hamstring injuries.
It was clear from Moylan’s body language that he would be hanging up the boots as Siosifa Talakai trotted on to replace him. Not only did the Sharks get the next try, however, but they channeled Moylan’s earlier try assist, as if affirming his ongoing presence in the team. The play started with a left sweep, focusing Gold Coast’s attention on the wing, where Graham popped it back inside at the last minute to Andrew Fifita, who had just come onto the park.
Drawing on Hamlin-Uele’s run in the same spot twenty minutes before, Fifi barged through Arrow and Tanah Boyd as they converged on him for a low tackle, and then pirouetted through Fogarty to plant the ball over the line, recovering the Sharks’ six point lead once Johnson added the extras. Yet the Titans hit back a moment later, when Taylor double pumped to send Beau Fermor past Johnson through the line, and all the way to Dugan at the ten.
The Titans shifted left, as Fotuaika took a big hit-up from Woods, and then completed the right sweep with a harbour bridge ball from Taylor out to Anthony Don. Fermor broke through again a minute later, and had players on his inside, but instead popped it out to Peachey, who reached up and knocked it on. Peachey got his linebreak four seconds out from the siren, but Dugan now made up for a poor kick the set before by charging down the ex-Panther here to keep it 12-10 heading into the sheds.
So far both teams had gone try for try, but that rhythm would change in the second stanza, when the Sharkies put down 28 unanswered points to take control of the game. This string of tries started with Johnson and Nikora making good on their earlier near-linebreak, as the five-eighth poked his nose through the line and offloaded to his second-rower, who took advantage of a poor defensive read from Taylor to bounce off a low tackle from Roberts and crash over the line.
The Sharks amped up their defence on the next Gold Coast set, as Toby Rudolf spearheaded a pack effort to almost drag Don from midfield into touch on play one. Play paused while Sam Lisone got to his feet after a big hit from Woods, and while Woods was pinged for going to high, Cronulla now made good on their previous defensive flex, with a second pack effort to dragged Carty over the sideline.
For a moment, it looked like Don had got the Titans back on the board with two kicks at the end of the next set – a grubber two-thirds of the way down the park, and then a shorter chip after he chased it down himself. Hipgrave was unable to scoop it up, however, and while Cartwright regained possession and popped it across to Don to put down, Hipgrave had already made the knock-on. The Titans were still pumped at the start of the next set, but it worked against them, as Jarrod Wallace was called offside.
Conversely, Cronulla were always going to score off this sudden shift in momentum, channeling Gold Coast’s adrenalin as they rolled up through the middle, clearing space for Johnson to put in a big right step, poke his nose through the line, and offload for Brailey to break through Taylor and Hipgrave for his fourth NRL try. With Johnson bookending the play with a conversion from right in front, the Sharks now had the biggest lead of the afternoon so far
A forward pass from Townsend to Graham prevented them reaching the end of the restart, and a ruck error from Rudolf a play later got Gold Coast their next chance, but Taylor dropped the footy from Fogarty just as quickly, banging his fist to the turf in frustration. With a wayward Johnson pass bouncing straight into Don’s hands three tackles later, this had been the fastest changeover period of the game – just enough to slightly unsettle the Sharkies’ supremacy.
Nevertheless, Goodwin steadied the ship by securing one of Roberts’ biggest bombs on the full, before fending off Erin Clark and Jaimin Jolliffe on play two. Cronulla got a restart on play three, and maintained their momentum through a pause in play for Boyd to leave the field, thanks to a pair of errors from the Gold Coast spine – a knock-on from Roberts under Johnson’s kick, followed by an offside penalty for Taylor.
Rudolf slammed into the defence on the first tackle, Hamlin-Uele followed suit in the same spot, and Townsend did it alone on the third, receiving the footy fifteen metres out, and fending off three lines of defence to score on his first big run down the Gold Coast end of the park. An error-laden ten minutes now ensued for both teams, but the mistakes finally tipped towards the Titans – or towards Peachey, who made two botches and then leaked an offside penalty to get Royce Hunt his first try in the NRL.
This was probably the simplest, hardest try of the afternoon, as Williams barged into the defence on play one and Hunt twisted and spun over on play two. Johnson booted through the extras and finally the Sharkies got a try on the restart – or virtually got a try on the restart, since while Johnson sent the Steeden over the line on the last, Lisone lost it on play three out of the subsequent scrum, gifting Cronulla zero tackle within the Gold Coast thirty.
The visitors ended with style – an arcing parabola ball from Townsend out to Goodwin on the left wing – reaching forty for the second time in a row after their barnstorming win over Canberra last week. They’re in good form to take the Panthers next round, while Gold Coast will be looking to mine the best bits of this game when they host the Warriors for another home fixture at Cbus on Friday night.