Brayden Trindall was the star and Tariq Sims was fortunate to stay on the field as the Dragons lost 24-18 to Cronulla at a sold out Shark Park.
The Warriors showed renewed spirit in their first match under Stacey Jones but basic errors cost them dearly as Cronulla overcame a slow start to run out 38-16 winners at Redcliffe’s Moreton Daily Stadium on Sunday night.
While the Sharks were far from their best, they were helped along by a range of Warriors blunders like bombing a certain try, fumbling the ball in the in-goal area and kicking out on the full from a restart after a Cronulla try.
Interim coach Stacey Jones, who took over after Nathan Brown’s contract was terminated on Tuesday, was known for his competitive spirit as a player and the Warriors at least looked up for the contest for the first time in a long time.
However, he will be tearing his hair out trying to come up with a way to instill some discipline and footy smarts into this outfit.
“We got off to a good start and then it was a familiar outcome that was happening. We make an error and our resilience to defend that was not there. It’s as simple as that – that’s where we need to get better,” Jones said.
“I spoke to the group earlier on when I first came on and I said we’ve got to fix up some effort areas, being resilient and having some steel and we got the same result tonight. I tried to keep things as simple as possible during the week with attack stuff and it showed for that first part but then we fell back to some habits that we’ve got to get out of this team right now.
“I’d like to fix it straight away but it might take some time.
“I love this club. I’ve been around it for a long time, obviously playing and then being in the coaching set-up for a little bit of time now and I love it and I’ll do my best.
“I want to win some footy games, I just want to win and compete every week and be in the game but I want to win some footy games, I want this club to win footy games. If we do that. we’re going to have fun doing it. I said ‘boys, I want to have fun’ but to do that we’ve got to win some footy games but it’s hard work.”
Fitzgibbon said Cronulla need to reduce the difference between their best and worst to become title contenders.
The mythological new coach bump lasted all of 12 minutes for the Warriors with Reece Walsh and Wayde Egan touching down for a 12-0 lead as the Sharks slumbered through the opening stages.
Walsh’s try was the result of slick lead-up work while Egan embarrassed Cronulla’s goal-line defence from dummy half.
“We missed the start, obviously, largely due to our discipline and then didn’t respond to poor discipline by defending our goal line with two simple tries so we’ll address that,” Sharks coach Craig Fitzgibbon said.
“We knew with a new coach there’s a possible big energy shift that’s going to happen to get us off the start so, to be honest, to respond off the back of that start, I’m really happy about that.
“I’m not happy about letting teams off the hook consistently. We’re moving in the right direction. I know what we’re after and I know what we’re trying to achieve but we’re still letting people off the hook.”
The visitors hit back firstly via winger Sione Katoa cashing in on a Nicho Hynes bomb that the Warriors failed to defuse.
After kicking the restart out on the full, the Warriors conceded a second try when Siosifa Talakai used a sidestep rather than his usual bulldozing approach to score.
Veteran forward Ben Murdoch-Masila suffered a gruesome injury when his left arm bent back at a terrible angle as he tried to tackle Sharks fullback Will Kennedy midway through the first half.
The 31-year-old prop, who is contracted to the club until the end of next year, is facing a lengthy stint on the sideline which cruels his chances of representing Tonga in the Test against New Zealand in Auckland on June 25.
When Matt Moylan put Ronaldo Mulitalo over, the visitors were up 14-12 and the veteran five-eighth added an individual try of his own, Cronulla had racked up 20 unanswered points with still five minutes left before half-time.
A minute after the Warriors butchered what should have been a certain try to Adam Pompey, the Sharks made it 24-12 at the break when Kennedy completed a catch-and-pass that was so quick, he didn’t even catch the ball, batting it along the backline for Katoa’s second.
After a dull first 14 minutes to start the second stanza, Dallin Watene-Zelezniak brought the game to life when he acrobatically dived over in the corner to avoid Mulitalo’s clutches to cut the deficit to eight.
Mulitalo gained his revenge midway through the second term when he scrambled out of Walsh and Josh Curran’s tackle to touch down in the corner, with the bunker controversially ruling it was not a double movement and that his knee had not touched the sideline despite the on-field referee sending the decision through as no try.
Any hope of a late Warriors fightback was snuffed out in the 64th minute when a Jesse Ramien kick was juggled seven or eight times in comical fashion by Walsh in the in-goal area before dropping through his legs for Kennedy to pounce and make it 34-16.
Unlike a few other times this season, the Warriors didn’t turn up their toes in the closing stages so there is some hope for Jones and the nomadic club as they gear up for their long-awaited homecoming in Auckland on July 2 against the Wests Tigers. Although there is the small matter of a clash with premiers Penrith next weekend before the representative round bye.
Katoa streaked away 60 metres after an errant pass to collect his hat-trick three minutes from the final siren.
The Sharks, who have momentarily, perhaps, leapfrogged Parramatta into fifth spot to be 8-5, are taking a home game to Coffs Harbour next Saturday to face the Titans.