Almanac Rugby League – NRL Round 19: Cronulla v Canberra – Fine margins, shared moments

Cronulla 28  Canberra 24

6:00 pm, Friday 20th July

Shark Park, Sydney

Paul Macadam


I’ve been one poor correspondent; I’ve been too too hard to find. Last season I left you with three rounds to go, and I’ve returned with only six remaining in this one. Then, a premiership challenge was sliding out of view. Now a new one is springing to life.


How good is this team? Not a rhetorical question. I still don’t know. On Friday we saw the very best and the much less impressive all in one. Let’s start with the best.


Too often in the last 18 months the Sharks haven’t scored enough points for the territory they’ve enjoyed, and been punished later. This time they turned their dominance into cold cash. Think back to the same fixture last year and how poorly the Canberra sin-binning was handled. This time? No penalties; no panic. Just patience. Toying with the spaces where Jordan Rapana would normally be, then punching through the middle; Fifita the wrecking ball. Where the first try relies on force, the second is the chef’s fingers. A thousand training drills distilled into one move. The try they’ve been trying to score all year. Instead of being disheartened when the Raiders respond, they go and get two more before the break. That first half sets a benchmark for future performances to be measured against.


The second forty is miles off. Cronulla open the half with an incomplete set, just as their opponents did earlier. Graham’s precautionary withdrawal hurts – all three of Canberra’s tries in his absence are scored down the left edge of defence, while combinations become ragged in the other direction. Once the lead fortuitously returns to ten points it never truly feels in danger, but it could’ve been so different.


All roads lead to referees in NRL land. Exhausting and regressive as the discourse is, I can’t not mention this. Sione Katoa’s try shouldn’t have been awarded. It involved all three officiating parties making mistakes at once, and the bunker’s failure to factor in the chaos caused by the initial two qualifies it as one of the worst calls of 2018. Ricky Stuart might have a point in claiming his side don’t get the breaks others do (if true, I’d attribute this to subconscious pressure shaped by ladder positions rather than a Sydney-centric conspiracy). But this result isn’t why September will mark the start of his holidays. Instead he should curse that disastrous opening month where the Raiders held three supremely winnable positions and blew the lot. That’s the folly tied to lamenting fine margins in sport; there’s usually more you could’ve done to make them redundant. Nothing is allowed to go wrong when you’re 22-6 down. The incident was one hard line too many for a team which has been playing with close to zero margin for error since way back in round 5.


For the Sharks, it’s the second match in the last three where an incorrect decision has helped swing the result in their favour. You take every goddamn one of those you get because they really don’t all even out. It’s the fortune you need a dash or a dollop of in order to be premiers. Not by dumb luck do our boys find themselves in outright 5th place, though. Three wins on the trot. Ten from the past twelve. All achieved without once sustaining the heights we now know they can hit.


Inviting fans on the field at the end to sing “Up Up Cronulla” with the team was a sweet touch (I regret not sticking around after full-time, though it was numbingly cold by 8 pm). A moment for players and supporters to share. One for everyone to carry with them as the train of the season puts on some speed. Eighteen played; six to come. Final quarter commences Thursday. All aboard.


Cronulla Sharks 28 (Andrew Fifita, Ricky Leutele, Valentine Holmes, Wade Graham, Sione Katoa tries; Chad Townsend 4 goals) defeated Canberra Raiders 24 (Joey Leilua 2, Brad Abbey, Jordan Rapana tries; Sam Williams 4 goals). Crowd: 10 016.


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.


  1. Ian Hauser says

    Paul, I think we’ll get a better picture of both the Sharks and the Broncos after tomorrow night. The Sharks have been flying a bit under the radar in recent times as the Storm, Dragons and Roosters have had more coverage than they may deserve. The resurgent Tigers have added another distraction.

    But I’ve been rather wary of the Cronulla lads for a while and feel that they could make a good push come the finals. They certainly have the personnel after some astute acquisitions in the past year or so. I’m still not fully convinced about their consistency – yet. How will they fare against a rampant forward pack like the Roosters, based on their destruction of Manly last weekend? Or can the Sharks impose themselves sufficiently? Do they need to be top 4 to be a realistic finals hope?

    But what can you make of the Broncos – belted by the Warriors, then they put 50 points on the Panthers!!! Please explain. Which version will show up tomorrow night? My gut feeling is that the Sharks have more smarts, especially if Maloney plays.

    Paul, you may have been one poor correspondent and too, too hard to find, but I can tell that it doesn’t mean that the game ain’t been on your mind!

  2. You’re right – two mystifying sides for different reasons, and it feels like a game that has more than two points riding on the outcome. I don’t think a top 4 spot will be quite as crucial this time as it usually is. Five Sydney teams will be in the finals – maybe six if the Tigers can sustain a late surge – which could neutralise the home advantage aspect and pave the way for someone to do what the Cowboys did last year. A lot’ll depend on how the Sharks forward pack goes. Couldn’t make any ground at all in the same fixture last season, and the Broncs basically set up camp in our half.

    Haha cheers Ian! Footy’s never too far away from the thought patterns, even if I’m not always putting them down in writing.

  3. Paul, I didn’t see too much last night to suggest that either team will go too far into September. It was a game that kept me involved only because the scores were close.

    I thought the Sharks always looked more likely as they made easy metres up the middle. They just couldn’t get the last play right. They missed Maloney. And where’s Wade Graham? They also copped a couple dodgy decisions but, after last week against the Raiders, they’re not in a good position to complain. Some might call it instant karma.

    Like most Queenslanders, I can’t stand Gallen but you have to give credit to the ancient warrior. If only Fifita had Gallen’s commitment, he just might become the star he has the potential to be.

    For the Broncos, the best is yet to come – one or two years down the track when those young forwards get a bit more experience under their belts. The halves remain an issue. As a team, they defended well at the end when it counted. And their ancient warrior, Thaiday, also continues hold his own.

    So, looking ahead to the next 2 months, I think the Sharks have more to offer as the finals approach.

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