Cronulla Sharks were determined to take the focus away from their off-field issues over the last week, as the faced a Wests Tigers side featuring debutant Harry Grant and a returning Moses Mbye.
The Tigers were the first to put points on the board inside the first 5 minutes. Luke Brooks and Harry Grant looked like a great partnership early on with the half-back offloading to the hooker, who dived over to score his first try in the Orange and Black.
A second try looked to have followed just minutes later. A successful captain’s challenge allowed the Tigers to kick on the last. William Kennedy failed to gather the high bomb and Moses Mbye picked up and offloaded to Robert Jennings who raced over in the corner.
With the absence of Bronson Xerri and Andrew Fifita, the Sharks looked to be struggling to contain the Tigers, but a knock-on from Josh Aloiai just a few metres from the try line, let the home side off the hook.
The Sharks made sure not to stay grounded though. They marched back up the field and camped in Wests half.
Back-row Wade Graham found himself with the ball in hand and dribbled a kick behind the defensive line which was pounced on by Josh Dugan for the score.
Dugan then picked up his second in the 10th minute. Shaun Johnson and Chad Townsend shifted the ball out to Graham once more. Graham then popped the ball onto Dugan, who used his combination of pace and power to level the scores.
The Sharks found themselves on the front foot, but this time, the Tigers snuffed out the last tackle running play.
The home-side were peppering David Nofoaluma with kicks into the corner, forcing a number of goal-line drop-outs from Wests, and looked to take the lead. Unfortunately for Cronulla, Johnson’s pass out wide to Ronaldo Mulitalo drifted forward.
The back and forth first half continued, and the Sharks nearly scored the try of the season so far.
Graham kicked through, which was gathered by Sione Katoa, who kicked back across to Kennedy, the full-back dropped the ball backwards which was then knocked on by the Tigers to give the ball back to Cronulla.
Kennedy made amends for his error though, as he picked up an inside pass from Scott Sorensen, and ran straight through the middle of the Tigers defence.
Johnson converted to make it 16-10 with 5 minutes until the half.
The half ended with the Tigers looking to exploit a gap on the left edge, but nothing came from the move.
HALF-TIME: Cronulla Sharks 16-10 Wests Tigers
The second half started brighter for the Sharks but couldn’t quite get on the board to extend their lead.
Cronulla looked to force a goal-line drop-out, but Blayke Brailey’s kick was too heavy.
Adam Douehi took the 20-metre tap and three tackles later, Benki Marshall threw a looping pass out to Nofoaluma, and with just one Shark player in front of him, the winger through a weak-handed pass to Luke Garner, who carried Dugan and Townsend over the line with him and grounded the ball.
Marshall missed the conversion to level the game, but with 20 minutes the remaining, the Tigers were awarded a penalty for a ball strip after the tackle, and the half-back kicked the goal for 16-16 after an hour.
Wests then retook the lead thanks to some poor tackling from the Sharks.
David Nofoaluma picked up the ball from the goal-line drop-out, ran at Townsend and Dugan, pushing off both of them, and racing away to score in the right-hand corner.
With just over 10 minutes remaining, and the Tigers holding a slender lead, both teams knew the game was still winnable, but a knock-on from Ronaldo Mulitalo gave Wests the chance to push ahead further.
The visitors punished the error, with Josh Aloiai charging over from a short distance through a tiring Cronulla defence.
Moses Mbye took control of the kicking duties and converted for a 10-point lead to the away team.
With three minutes to go, another illegal strip of the ball allowed the Tigers to waste some time, and kick for posts once again.
Mbye duly converted, and made it 16-28 with 90 seconds on the clock.
A short-restart from the Sharks didn’t make 10 metres, and the Tigers looked for try number six.
They forced a goal-line drop-out which the Sharks then kicked short and the game finished.
FULL-TIME: Cronulla Sharks 16-28 Wests Tigers
Kennedy, Katoa, Dugan, Ramien, Mulitalo, Johnson, Townsend, Woods, Brailey, Rudolf, Nikora, Graham, Williams
Interchanges: Hamlin-Uele, Sorensen, Magoulias, Moylan
Tries: Dugan (2), Kennedy
Goals: Johnson (2/3)
Doueihi, Nofoaluma, J. Leilua, Mbye, Jennings, Marshall, Brooks, Aloiai, Grant, Mikaele, Garner, L. Leilua, Twal
Interchanges: Clark, Walters, Lawrence, Seyfarth
Tries: Grant, Jennings, Garner, Nofoaluma, Aloiai
Goals: Marshall (2/5), Mbye (2/2)
Referee: A. Gee
Touch Judges: K. Badger, J. Stone
Video Referee: B. Lowe
Image Source: @NRL (Twitter)