The last split round because of Origin obligations saw the Cronulla Sharks rack up another win, taking them to 13 on the trot.
The other NRL fairytale continued over at Pirtek Stadium on Friday night where the Parramatta Eels overcame injury and a week of yet more woe off the field to stage a remarkable comeback against the Roosters.
The depleted Cronulla team were inspired by a dazzling performance from Ben Barba to beat the Penrith Panthers 26-10 at Pepper Stadium on Sunday afternoon. Their campaign started with disappointment though when Cronulla thought they had their first try in the 11th minute. Barba broke through defenders and put a grubber kick through for Valentine Holmes who chased hard to put the ball down but was frustrated by Dylan Edwards, on debut for the Panthers, managed to touch first.
Barba, the 2012 Dally M medalist, was not to be denied though and scored in the 23rd minute. Sharks debutant five-eighth Fa’amanu Brown stepped off his left foot and passed the ball to Barba putting him a hole to streak away and score from 25 metres out. Ten minutes later he was in again with another brilliant try. Gerard Beale broke through defence and attempted to offload to Barba but couldn’t reach Barba’s chest. The ball went to ground but it wasn’t a knock on so Barba gathered it then sliced and weaved past three defenders at speed.
Penrith finally got points on the board in the 37th minute when Leilani Latu crashed over from close range under the posts off a cut-out ball by captain Peter Wallace. Nathan Cleary easily converted and the two teams went into the sheds at 8-6. (Holmes had a shocker and failed to convert a try.)
The second half brought little joy for Penrith, who struggled to hold it together. The highlight for the Panthers fans was a real black cat that somehow ended up on the field, then showed good speed racing down the touchline. The Panthers could have used such determination to survive as the Sharks pressed on to score three more tries. Mitch Brown, who seized the opportunity to play his first NRL game in more than a year rather than be the best man at his brother’s wedding, extended the Sharks’ lead to six in the 50th minute when he threaded his way through soft Panthers’ defence. Three minutes later the lead was extended when Will Smith fumbled the ball on his line to give Joseph Paulo the softest of tries. Holmes having failed with the boot, Chad Townsend was given kicking duties and duly converted two of the Sharks’ tries and took advantage as the Panthers’ discipline broke down, slotting a penalty goal. Former Panther Luke Lewis pushed the Sharks to 26 points when he powered through the defence to slam the ball down.
Penrith fans were already walking out of the stadium when Isaah Yeo streaked away for a try, reducing the margin to a less embarrassing 16. to score to make the scoreline a little more respectable as the siren sounded. If Cronulla’s winning streak was ever going to be snapped, this should have been the night: five stars were absent on Origin duties, but Lewis, Michael Ennis and Barba led from the front and the rest of the team rose to the challenge.
Eels beat the Roosters despite injury toll
A second-half masterclass by Corey Norman helped the Eels defeat the hapless Sydney Roosters 22-18 at Pirtek Stadium on Friday night. The game had hardly begun when the Eels lost Semi Radradra who went down awkwardly in a three-man tackle. The Roosters took full advantage as Shaun Kenny-Dowell broke through defenders and offloaded to Latrell Mitchell who scored off a 30-metre run in the 9th minute. Eels captain Tim Mannah copped a knock and had to leave the field for a concussion check in the 17th but at least he was cleared to return later. Then Issac De Gois came off second best when his head connected with Dylan Napa’s knee and he was forced off. Coach Brad Arthur, unable to use the interchange bench for much of the game, was forced to resort to quick positional changes and had dummy-half returning for most of the match. Rather than wilt, the Eels surged forward, and a neat grubber kick by Norman put Michael Gordon over to level in the 21st minute.
The Roosters score two quick tries to start the second half. The returning Boyd Cordner scored in the 47th minute then Mitchell scored his second in the 50th to give the Roosters a handy lead. Both tries were set-up by cross-field bombs from Mitchell Pearce to the taller Daniel Tupou; the smaller Bevan French was unable to cope with the overlap Pearce created.
No sooner had the Roosters looked set for victory than they went to sleep, allowing the Eels to claw their way back into the game. Back-rower Manu Ma’u, forced into centre because of the Radradra injury, bagged a double in the space of seven minutes, first off a grubber by Norman and then a simple pass that sent him across the line unchecked by the Roosters’ defence. The Eels sealed their victory in the 75th minute when another perfectly measured Norman grubber kick allowed Clinton Gutherson to score in the corner in front of almost 9,000 deliriously joyful Parramatta fans. The Roosters opted to take a short kick and they regained possession but their last hope of catching up was dashed when the ubiquitous Norman thwarted their attack. To add to the Eels’ problems as they struggle to overcome the loss of those 12 stripped competition points, Radradra was today confirmed as having medial knee ligament damage that will keep him off the field for four to six weeks. – Jesse Mullens
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Photo of Ben Barba carving up the Panthers’ defence from the Cronulla Sharks’ Facebook page.