The ladder-leading Cronulla Sharks have dealt the finals aspirations of the Canberra Raiders U20s a gruelling blow in cruising to a 58-22 win in the NYC at Southern Cross Group Stadium on Saturday evening.
It was a gallant opening half in which Cronulla raced to six tries to Canberra’s two to have the game all but sewn up at 30-10 at the break after a brilliant opening 40 from Raiders hooker Erin Clark.
The Sharks drew first blood two minutes in when second-row Briton Nikora crossed on the right edge before Kyle Flanagan added the extras to hand the hosts a 6-0 lead.
The back-rower had a double when he barraged his over from close range six minutes later, before Clark split Cronulla up the middle with an explosive dart from dummy-half.
Centre Andre Niko was brought to ground on the right edge deep in Sharks territory after a series of inventive offloads, but it was again the home side who would impact on the scoreboard.
First came a try on the left edge to second-row Tony Matautia in the 13th minute, before Nikora clinched a hat-trick of tries four minutes later when he again found the white line to the right of the posts.
Flanagan converted Nikora’s third four-pointer to hand the Sharks a 20-0 buffer, but Clark then continued to impress amid the early disappoint when he burrowed his way over from dummy-half.
Niko made no mistake from the tee to make things 20-6, but the Sharks wasted no time in revealing their teeth once again.
Fullback William Kennedy swooped on a grubber sent skidding inside his side’s own 20m area, before slicing through the Raiders’ defence and offloading to five-eighth Luke Metcalf who would race away for a converted try in the 25th minute.
The Sharks continued to pile on the pressure when Matautita collected his second try of the night to extend his side’s lead to 30-6, but it was the Green Machine who would head into half-time with the last laugh.
Captain Jack Murchie steamed on to a Paul Roach short ball in Cronulla territory to race away for a converted try on the right edge and make things 30-10 at the break.
The sides exchanged blows early in the second stanza, Kennedy first gathering a fortunate deflection to cross to the left of the posts four minutes in before Murchie sliced through on the left edge a minute later.
Niko added the extras to reduce the deficit to 20 points at 36-16, before the sides again traded punches.
Flanagan picked up a try off the back of a powerful Daniel Vasquez hit-up, but the Green Machine would again grit its teeth when prop Emre Guler willed his way over from close range after a full-throttle set of six before Niko converted to make things 40-22.
The Sharks would respond with another three tries late in the game to pocket their 16th consecutive victory.
The Raiders will eye off a return to the winners’ circle when they travel to New Zealand to face the Warriors next Sunday.