NRL Round 2 – Canberra v Cronulla: Be-bop-a-lula, he’s our Brailey

Cronulla Sharks 42 Canberra Raiders 16

7:30 pm, Saturday 11th March

Canberra Stadium, Canberra

Paul Macadam

 

Missing the finals, are we Hindy? What a win. My god, what a team. All the build-up talk about redemption and revenge, with black, white and blue jerseys relevant only insofar as they were offering fodder for a green steamroller. Cronulla weren’t having any of that. This was more than just the two points. It was the Sharks showing their doubters – perhaps even showing themselves – where they can stick their premiership hangover theory.

 

Holmes is a big miss, but one you can understand given the length of the season and the importance of his fitness. Losing Beale during the week was yet another blow, further straining an already patchwork backline. What the absences allow is for Jack Bird to occupy the fullback role he’s been agitating to fill. He’s quietly terrific for the first try; Leutele makes the ideal run but it’s only ideal if you hit him with the ideal pass. Before then it’s all scrappy and sloppy, with neither side holding the ball, let alone doing what they’re capable of with it. Lee ties himself up in all sorts of positional knots before Wighton’s first.

 

Canberra approach the match so fixated on aggression that they play into Cronulla’s hands. For 25 minutes it’s effective enough, then the Sharks’ halves begin to click. Ricky Stuart’s fondness for up-and-in defence requires all his charges to move collectively. When they don’t, it’s not hard to puncture the line. Maloney spots Blake Austin rushing out on his own, and sends Graham through a hole in Canberra’s right edge. Austin’s no mug though, and a clever dummy opens up the space for him to find Rapana. You’ll take any lead at the break given how ordinary the game’s first quarter was. Two points will do.

 

Tries aren’t only about the final pass and the fella who places it down. There’s a set in minute 46 where half the team can claim a share of the credit. Edrick Lee sets the tone with a cracking kick return from his own posts. Jack Bird steals 15 metres. Chris Heighington likewise on the 5th tackle. (Worth noting that the bench – including Jeremy Latimore on his Cronulla debut – contributes far more this week than it did last). Instead of kicking, Chad Townsend goes short to Luke Lewis, who finds a gap. Jayden Brailey is not a hooker who goes through motions once he’s initiated a play. Soon as Lewis has the ball, he sprints to keep up on the inside, and his reward is a first ever try in the NRL. I’m trying to refrain from overhyping the kid, but Christ he can play. Not afraid to keep his teammates on their toes, either; a hidden gem from the aforementioned set is Brailey impatiently clapping his hands after a slow play-the-ball.

 

As they did in last year’s semi-final, Cronulla run at Canberra’s middle in the second half. Now as then, Josh Hodgson is hardly able to walk. The halves take full advantage by combining to send Graham in for his second. 24-10 with 25 to go is a position many sides would settle for, but the Sharks aren’t feeling charitable. Maloney wellies the ball downfield for a 40-20. What’s going on with them this season? Swear there’ve been about 58 in the past fortnight. Bird goes close, and with no-one vaguely resembling a marker, Graham says thanks a lot mate, and falls over for his third try.

 

By the hour mark, we’re basically taking the piss; attempting a world record for most consecutive penalties without conceding; Prior reminding home fans of his try that turned September’s match; Paulo grubbering for Gallen to score. That last one’s a contender for the funniest thing I’ve seen in a game of footy.

 

It should be acknowledged how poor the opposition was. But once their heads dropped, Cronulla didn’t allow them a moment’s peace. The second 40 was the equal of anything they produced in 2016. Whatever you could accuse them of missing against Brisbane was on show in abundance here. Plenty of raw power, but tonnes of intelligence too in the exploiting of Canberra’s weaknesses. The derby on Sunday. Every little thing anticipates you. Up the Sharks. They’re still really, really good at football, I’ll have you know.

 

Cronulla Sharks 42 (Wade Graham 3, Ricky Leutele, Jayden Brailey, Matt Prior, Paul Gallen tries, James Maloney 7 goals) defeated Canberra Raiders 16 (Jack Wighton 2, Jordan Rapana tries, Aidan Sezer 2 goals) at Canberra Stadium.

Crowd: 15,807

About Paul Macadam

Songwriter under my own name, drummer for Library Siesta. Newly ecstatic Cronulla tragic who also loves Liverpool because life wasn't meant to be easy. Too slow for the wing, too skinny for the second row.

Comments

  1. kath presdee says:

    He’s our Brailey indeed!

    The moment he tried to contest the first scrum, I knew the kid was something special.

    Played strong, done fine, as Gibbo used to say.

  2. andy frame says:

    Good to be reading your black, white and blue missives again Paul. I missed the Broncos game as I was out of town and tbh was still a little despondent after the somewhat insipid display against Wigan in the WCC. Particularly as it was the first time I could actually take my young fella to a real game and watch the mighty Sharks.
    Saturday picked me right back up again though. We’re not a small pack by any means but that Canberra front 5 are a bunch of BIG units. Pity all that bulk meant nought by the hour mark as they’d clearly run out of gas. ;)
    Like you, I don’t want to hype the kid too much but I like him. Boy, do I like him! Nothing better than seeing a downbeat Sticky too.
    It’s a long season and I still have my worries about how well we can back up, but then I just think – Hey! We’re the Premiers! And don’t it still feel good… :D
    Up the Sharks!

  3. Glad to hear from you both again! Hope the off-season treated you well.

    Kath: He’s a really exciting talent. Can tackle all day (not that Canberra really tested that capacity), and got ridiculous try assist numbers in the NYC last year. Already showing signs that he can adapt all sides of his game up to NRL level. Always good to see a shire boy rising through the ranks, too.

    Andy: Know what you mean – between the sudden departure of Barba for rugby, the injury to Holmes and a defeat to Wigan we could’ve prepared more seriously for, there were a few concerning signs. Sorry that his first Sharkies game was a bit disappointing. We’ll be visiting England again soon enough, either as premiers once again, or something damn near to it. All it took was one win, I’ve been buzzing ever since! Yeah, the Raiders severely ran out of gas. Junior Paulo didn’t look as though he’d been on a particularly strict summer diet.

    We sure are, and it still feels great :) Let’s simultaneously embrace the joy of it all and be hungry for more, haha. I’ve set a target of writing one of these every game this year, will have plenty to say about Sunday no matter what happens.

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