NRL Round 17 – Eastern Suburbs v Cronulla: Later with Luke Lewis

Cronulla Sharks 44  Sydney Roosters 12

3:00pm, Saturday 1st July

Central Coast Stadium, Gosford

Paul Macadam

 

Cronulla psychologically needs to be perceived as an underdog. The club has always struggled to carry the weight of favouritism; whether that be in preliminary finals, or routine home games against the competition’s dross. To reach the heights it dreams of, it seems to need some kind of crash beforehand.

 

I don’t know how to change this. It’s a riddle neither you nor I alone can solve. What I do know is that, with the possible exception of Queensland, there’s no wounded rugby league team I’d less fancy facing than the Cronulla Sharks.

 

Last Sunday against Manly was a bitter low. You can hack losing when your side runs out of time; even out of ideas. But running out of heart is never acceptable. It was in the post for awhile. The flip side to an admirable record of comeback wins is the flat starts that make them necessary. 18-0 down after 23 was merely a more extreme case of what’s been happening for months. Scraping barrels for positives. Five straight wins against this lot must count for something, right? Playing on the Central Coast helps; neutralising the supposed home side’s advantage. Gosford is a capital A away trip, as opposed to the semi-familiarity of the SFS.

 

From the first whistle, the Sharks impose themselves. In the first half they’re close to perfection, as all the Origin players you wanted more from against Manly step up. Lewis runs a convincing decoy, drawing in Mitchell, who has a rough afternoon without his usual assistant, Cordner. With the available space, Maloney chooses Holmes. Holmes feeds Bird, who has Beale as an option on his outside, but puts his strength to full use and powers over the line. The immediate hit-back from Easts is against the run of play, cleverly improvised, and one I’m willing to write off as a try you occasionally just have to cop. Cronulla’s next stems from the fullback being hungry for the ball rather than waiting for a signal. Townsend feints right, switches left to his halves partner, Maloney turns inside for Holmes. With quicker feet and a quicker mind, he dashes past an off-balance defender. Under the sticks. 14-6.

 

Frustratingly, the lead is cut back once again. Bird sullies his record with a poor defensive read. Then a couple of sets in a row where Easts march 60 metres downfield, and you fret over a swing of momentum. On-field, no heads drop or roll off. Instead, it’s the Sharks who strike. Luke Lewis switches the play and throws a speculator that might backfire on another day. But these are the days of Luke Lewis, so naturally Joseph Manu slips over, the numbers of the overlap are added up, and Feki scores his 10th of the season. We’ve been battling to score 20 points in a match this year; 20 in a half comes as a surprise. But no less than deserved. 100% completion rate, two-thirds of the ball, and a healthy enough lead.

 

You can’t expect to dominate for 80 minutes against a top-four-or-five side, and it’s no shock when Easts edge the next 10. Though the pressure is partially self-inflicted, the blue line holds firm. Against Melbourne, the Roosters’ halves got it right when it mattered most. Here they can’t. Pearce’s left-foot grubber is too shallow; Keary’s right-foot chip too deep. In between, Jake Friend opts for an unprepossessing punt on the 4th. If that was a fatigued decision, here’s where the extra work the Roosters was forced to do in the first half really hits home.

 

Indulge me as I run through the following seven-tackle set. Beale marks Keary’s kick and makes a solid return after the tap. Feki taking hit-ups in the middle third might be one of my favourite sights in footy. This one is worth 20 metres. Leutele does likewise, and it’s worth reiterating how heavily the Sharks’ back five contributes to the harder parts of yard-gaining. There’s a hell of a lot more than just kick returns to their game. Sharks only 30 away from the line now. 20 once Heighington’s charged onto the ball. Play four is more expansive. Paulo at dummy-half, passes right to Maloney, whose inside ball for Gallen is shut down. Not to worry. Play five sees a move to the left where numbers await, Graham throws a smart cut-out pass, and Leutele scores.

 

Picture yourself in the Roosters huddle at that moment. 12 points down, and about 212 extra tackles made. You’ve got no points to show for that positive spell, and now you’re even further behind. Your senior players are doing their best to keep spirits high enough for a recovery, but all you can think of is how knackered you are. Then your former five-eighth knocks the conversion over from the sideline. Off the post, of course. Care for another 28 minutes of this? Didn’t think so.

 

From then on it’s a breeze. Fifita shuts up those (read: me) who’ve criticised him for running sideways too much by setting up a try via running sideways. Attracts three into an attempted tackle (one didn’t need to be there but that’s the effect Andrew Fifita has), none are able to stop him from off-loading, Beale does his bit. All five of the backline have scored in the same match. How on earth do you beat them in this mood? Black, white and blue whichever way you turn. Black, white and blue haunting your dreams. Waking you up in a cold blue sweat.

 

Oh, Luke Lewis. What a run. What a man. New contract that runs until he’s 45 years old, please. This latest intercept try deserves its own poem. Cheers to all referees and touch judges involved for not spoiling the moment with any of that “offside” bollocks, by the way. It was a tired pass. Poor Jake Friend. Not his fault he had to make 60-odd tackles. Nor that of his teammates, in truth. This is just what Cronulla can do to you.

 

They’re back. Whether for good or for an infuriatingly fleeting moment remains to be seen. You suspect a corner has been turned, though. Melbourne are minor premiers elect, but Saturday massively helps in the hunt for one of the three places underneath. Flanagan has spoken of relaxing his usual aversion to resting players. Allowing his men a week off from training gives them every chance of sprinting – rather than stumbling – into the finals.

 

There’s a tendency in sport – maybe life, if you want to labour the point – to spend so much time picking defeats apart that the victories pass you by. This time I wanted to make sure nothing went unappreciated. It’s a win that restores faith. A win to shout about, or to do a little dance to. Celebrate however you wish. Just enjoy it. Don’t take for granted how long we yearned for days like these. Take care, and we’ll talk more in a fortnight.

 

Cronulla Sharks 44 (Ricky Leutele 2, Jack Bird, Valentine Holmes, Sosaia Feki, Gerard Beale, Luke Lewis tries; James Maloney 8/8 goals) defeated Sydney Roosters 12 (Daniel Tupou, Ryan Matterson tries; Michael Gordon 2/2 goals). Crowd: 20 060.

 

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. Accurate description Paul. Reminds me on the Knights game earlier this season.

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