NRL Round 25 – Canterbury v Cronulla: Enjoy every sandwich

Cronulla Sharks 30  Canterbury Bulldogs 18

2:00 pm, Sunday 2nd September

ANZ Stadium, Sydney

 

Cronulla have a way of beating less talented teams without having to play near their best. This is both an extremely obvious thing to say – that’s the entire point of being a more talented team – and a credit to their efficiency. On Sunday the Bulldogs twice clawed the deficit back within six points, yet similarly to Newcastle the week before, couldn’t sustain a high level for long enough to have the Sharks worried. Barely anything happened in the last 25 minutes and, for different reasons, that suited both sides just fine.

 

What’s your motivation when the end result makes little difference? By Sunday morning it was clear that only a margin of record-breaking proportions in Brisbane could deny Cronulla 4th place and the lifeline it provides. Coach and captain each admitted it was a hard task to be buzzing about. The start is formidable though, and effectively seals the match by the time it’s a quarter through. Fifita epitomises this front-loading of energy exertion; charging and shoving and spinning and barging his way up field in the opening 20, before fading later. His third try in seven games owes a lot to the decoy running nous (or force) of Luke Lewis, soon to retire and sure to be missed next year. Dugan has a poor day defensively – perhaps as a result of a switch back to centre necessitated by injuries to Leutele and Ramien – but wins the race to a Moylan grubber by virtue of wanting it more. That’s now four games straight where he’s crossed the line. Plenty of backs in hot form, and a selection puzzle of the pleasant kind for Flanagan to figure out.

 

Holmes scores one, and has the final say in three others. Shows selflessness by gifting Capewell his first of the season and sparing him the tryless nudie run. Has the arrogance to hold the ball one-handed; taunting the Dogs’ right-edge defenders like they’re Krusty the Clown watching the Harlem Globetrotters. Provokes panic down the same side and feeds a resurgent Feki for his double. 13 tries in 14 games since returning to fullback at the start of May. That record speaks multitudes about his quality. While the positional learning curve was longer than we thought it’d be, it’s now reaping tremendous rewards.

 

Cronulla finish with 16 wins. Cronulla finish 4th. They were only there for two weeks; vitally, they were there when the door slammed on the final round. Since the regular season extended to 24 games in 1998, the Sharks have won 16 games on only four occasions. with two of those occurring since 2016. I say this not to temper expectations in case of a fall, but to note the rarity of this position in the context of the club’s history. This Sharks squad isn’t the one that won the comp. It’s arguably inferior to the one which last year finished a place lower. Yet for all that it’s lost and all it may lack, this team still has fight in abundance. Loves nothing more than being told it can’t. Wears opponents down with an unglamorous strategy then strikes once they tire. Stands on the toes of the rules and dares officials to whistle. Turns things into scraps then turns those scraps into scraps within scraps. Nobody will relish playing them; not now.

 

After every win, Paul Gallen uploads a buoyant rendition of “Up, Up Cronulla” to his Instagram. Without fail, the post will be given a one-word caption: “Enjoy”. Gallen understands better than most that there’s more to a win than saying job done and onto the next one. Years of losing seven games in every ten taught him that, but so has his interaction with supporters. He wants – they want – us to feel integral to this. You get the impression he’d invite all of us into that dressing room if there was the space. So enjoy this view, regardless of what the rest of September brings. Enjoy every win; enjoy every sandwich. See you on Saturday.

 

Cronulla Sharks 30 (Sosaia Feki 2, Kurt Capewell, Andrew Fifita, Josh Dugan, Valentine Holmes tries; Holmes 3 goals) defeated Canterbury Bulldogs 18 (Will Hopoate, Michael Lichaa, Brett Morris tries; Rhyse Martin 3 goals). Crowd: 14 189.

 

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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. Paul, I agree wholeheartedly with your analysis of the strategy used by the Sharks – grind the poor bastards into the ground and then run over them. If you score well in the process, then that’s a bonus. I said elsewhere the other day that the Sharks are a bit of a dark horse in the finals. The forward pack is ugly, mean and nasty (that’s a compliment!) but the key to the team’s prospects is inside Fifita’s head – he just has to play longer, more consistent good minutes to both grind them down initially as well as run through and over them. As you mention, he faded the other day after a great start. He does this too often. Holmes? Undoubtedly one of the stars of the season, an exciting player to watch.

  2. Hey Ian – yeah I agree! Not to put it all on one man’s shoulders but the form of Fifita could go further to determining the ceiling than any of his teammates bar perhaps Holmes. Brought his best in the 2016 finals under a lot of on and off-field pressure, looked a shadow of himself in the second half of last season – that Origin defeat took a heavy toll. Sunday was mainly about getting through unscathed so I’m not too concerned by him being ephemeral after that opening stint. Val’s been phenomenal – performing at a level that few Sharks of any era have sustained for several months consecutively. Turns us into a threatening them – without him we’d be merely functional. Can beat the Roosters if our forwards stay with theirs early – I think Victor Radley returning to the starting 13 is significant. Suggests they’ll put a lot of resources into those first 20 minutes. We’ll see :)

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