The Canberra Raiders have suffered a second straight loss, going down 40-16 to the Cronulla Sharks at GIO Stadium.
In a week of impressive performances across the NRL, the Sharks sent a reminder to the rest of the league with a thoroughly deserved victory, as the Raiders attack ultimately failed to click into gear.
After going down 36-6 to Parramatta last week, the Raiders were keen to get off to a fast start, but it was the Sharks who gave the home side an early scare, as a flat pass from Michael Ennis nearly had Paul Gallen through under the posts, but Canberra’s defence held the NSW captain out.
A tight first half saw few genuine try scoring chances. Canberra’s first attacking raid, off a run from Jack Wighton, saw Sam Williams pop Shaun Fensom through a gap, but the backrower couldn’t hang on with the try line begging.
After being denied what looked like a certain line drop out, the Raiders were made to curse their luck, as the Sharks marched 80 metres down the field, where a deft grubber from Ennis played in Ben Barba for the fullback’s fifth try of the season. And it could have been a lot worse for the home side on the very next set, with only a Sharks knock on at the try line denying the visitors back-to-back four pointers.
The Sharks were handed another chance in controversial circumstances after 20 minutes, with Jack Bird barrelling into Edrick Lee, making no attempt to play the ball, as the Canberra winger camped under a bomb. But the referee ruled a knock on by the Raiders, and it was Bird who then scored the Sharks second try moments later after a sweeping right-hand move.
That was it for first half scoring, with neither side able to make consistent use of the ball, registering eight handling errors each. Tempers threatened to boil over after a swinging arm on Elliott Whitehead went unpunished, before a penalty for a high tackle from Ennis on Jordan Rapana had the sides at each other’s throats.
In the shadows of halftime, a late dart out of dummy half had Josh Hodgson over the line, but the video ref ruled the England international was held up, as the home side couldn’t crack a resolute Sharks defence before the break.
It was then Cronulla who made the perfect opening to the second half, after a penalty inside 20 seconds gave them excellent field position, before backrower Jayson Bukuya barged his way over.
And the dose was repeated minutes later, as another penalty against the home side put the Sharks in position to attack, with Barba grabbing his double, diving over in the corner for a 24-0 lead.
Hodgson, under an injury cloud all week, was a warrior for the Green Machine all match, notching a game high 47 tackles as the Raiders fought to stay in the match.
That fight saw Canberra finally get on the board thirteen minutes into the half, as Rapana broke a tackle down the sideline before offloading for Kurt Baptiste to grab his first try of the season.
And it was Rapana who picked up the Raiders second minutes later, breaking a tackle before outsprinting the entire Sharks defence 80 metre to score, with Jarrod Croker’s ensuing conversion cutting the Sharks lead to 24-10.
The Sharks were able to hit straight back though, as another Raiders knock on was scooped up by James Maloney, whose 70 metre gallop left the Canberra defence stretched, with Valentine Holmes eventually getting across the line to restore Cronulla’s 20 point lead.
The back-and-forth half saw the Raider grab the next try through Aidan Sezer, but the Sharks were again able to answer with Matt Prior forcing his way over under the black dot. And it was Maloney who put the exclamation point on the win, intercepting off another Canberra attacking raid before running 90 metres to score.
The win gives the Sharks six wins in their past seven visits to the nation’s capital, while the Raiders will need to regroup before next week’s home game against the Wests Tigers.
Cronulla Sharks 40 (Barba 2, Bird, Bukuya, Holmes, Prior, Maloney tries; Maloney 6 goals) defeated Canberra Raiders 16 (Baptiste, Rapana, Sezer tries; Croker 2 goals) at GIO Stadium. Crowd: 12,890