Graham stars as Sharks down Broncos
Cronulla showed they don’t need Paul Gallen and Todd Carney to impress as they ended an eight-year Suncorp Stadium drought with a 26-12 NRL victory over Brisbane on Friday night.
Wade Graham, playing in Gallen’s No.13 jersey, starred for the Sharks as he set up a 16-0 lead in as many minutes at the start of a topsy-turvy and sometimes spiteful clash.
Utility Graham scored one try, set up two others and menaced the Broncos in defence but finished the night on report for a controversial shoulder charge on Josh Hoffman.
Carney’s five-eighth replacement Chad Townsend also performed strongly and kicked superbly for two tries as Brisbane’s undermanned pack, missing six Queensland Origin forwards, was dominated early.
But it was a 90m intercept to winger Nathan Stapleton which ultimately settled the result midway through the second half after the Broncos launched a gutsy comeback to have all the running at 16-12 down.
An Alex Glenn try from a rare tight-head scrum win had given the home side the momentum in front of 26,268 parochial fans, and they continued to hammer the Sharks line.
But Brisbane halfback Peter Wallace, in a game he’d rather forget, threw an ill-advised cut-out pass that Stapleton plucked out of the air for an unimpeded run to the line.
Colin Best crossed for two tries and Ben Pomeroy also bagged a four-pointer in the five tries to two victory to move the Sharks to third past the Broncos on the ladder.
Rubbing salt into the Broncos’ wounds, centre Jack Reed (quad) and fullback Hoffman (head knock) finished with injury worries after failing to play any part in the second half.
The Sharks had lost their past five matches against the Broncos by an average margin of 22 points and tasted victory just once in 12 trips to Suncorp Stadium but they started on fire and took the home side by surprise.
The corresponding match last year saw the Broncos jump to a 20-0 lead after 20 minutes and for five seconds the Sharks had the same advantage midway through the first half.
Hoffman suffered his head knock when Graham pulled off a huge in-goal tackle which saw the ball jolted free and pounced on by rival fullback Matthew Wright.
Referee Gavin Badger immediately awarded a try before calling for a video review which saw Graham penalised for his shoulder striking Hoffman’s head and the try disallowed.
With a groggy Hoffman replaced soon after, youngster Aaron Whitchurch started the fightback when he scored in his NRL debut in the 32nd minute.
Sharks captain Jeremy Smith was also placed on report for striking Brendan Gibb.
There are fears Reed, who was pushed off by Ben Pomeroy for the Sharks’ third try, may have fractured his fibula and will undergo X-rays.
In a brutal clash despite the absence of Origin players, Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan was upset by the decisions to place back-rowers Graham and Smith on report when neither deliberately attacked the head.
Flanagan said Hoffman was just a victim of an accidental head clash with Graham while Smith was trying to protect himself from Gibb.
“No one wants to see anyone get injured but for me I thought it was a really good shot,” he said. “Wade went in there with the intent to put a good shot on him and no intent to hit him in the head.
“I just thought it was a good tackle, and Jeremy was put on report as well.
“He’s dived on a loose ball and put his arm up to protect himself.
“We’re trying to soften the game up. That’s happened forever and a day. There was no intent in that either.”
Broncos skipper Glenn said he was devastated to see Brisbane’s fightback undone by one bad pass from Wallace.
“It was a bit heart-breaking,” he said. “We had a lot of momentum and confidence before that intercept.”
While Broncos hooker Andrew McCullough got through a mountain of work and finished the match with 61 tackles, coach Anthony Griffin was disappointed in regular halves Wallace and Corey Norman.
“The panic came from the guys you thought wouldn’t panic tonight – Wal and Corey took a few wrong options with the footy,” Griffin said.© AAP 2013
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