The Roar
The Roar


RTS shut down as Cronulla hold out for heroic win - is this the end of their flat track bullies tag?

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8th March, 2024

The Sharks have made the first move towards shifting their reputation as flat track bullies with a 16-12 come-from-behind win over the Warriors in Auckland.

In the first and last quarters, it was all hands to the pump for Cronulla, who were forced to defend for their lives amid a continual onslaught from the hosts, roared on by a sold out Mt Smart Stadium.

Yet Craig Fitzgibbon’s men did not wilt, holding out heroically on their goalline to secure the victory.

In the middle period, either side of half time, Cronulla were the better side and managed to sneak in enough points in that period to have something to defend.

Jesse Ramien, Ronaldo Mulitalo and Siosifa Talakai all crossed, overturning a 12-0 deficit that had been established thanks to early tries from Addin Fonua-Blake and Luke Metcalf.

When the five eighth slalomed through an already-knackered Cronulla middle in the 13th minute, the question appeared to be only the margin of Warriors victory. Few would have expected that to be their last score of the night.

Andrew Webster, however, would not have counted his chickens. The building blocks that made 2023 so successful are clearly still there, but the polish is not. Much as the Sharks defended well, they were assisted by an attack that, understandably given the stage of the year, was not yet at its best.


“Our defence, our ruck control, just weren’t good enough,” said the Warriors coach. “We were clunky, didn’t have the right timing.”

Roger Tuivasa-Sheck was well marshalled and Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, so lethal last year, barely got a sniff. Will Kennedy was required to perform some minor miracles in defence, but in truth, the collective defensive effort won the day.

That wasn’t something that could always be said of Fitzgibbon’s Sharks in 2023, and even more than the two points, it will be the most pleasing aspect for the coach.

“There’s a long way to go in the season and we can be better but the display of heart and effort was awesome,” he said.

“That was one of our most special wins, I think.”

The only dark spot for Ftizgibbon was an early high shot from Braydon Trindall that was put on report, while Webster might worry about Wayde Egan, who was removed with an arm issue.


RTS is back, but the Warriors attack isn’t quite there yet

Roger the Dodger is back in the NRL, and it was clear from the start that his reputation preceded him. The Sharks knew what he could do and adapted accordingly to shut him down.

Adding a player like Tuivasa-Sheck will obviously raise the level, but only if he is integrated into what was a highly systematic and effective attacking machine, and on the evidence of tonight that isn’t quite there yet – albeit with a full Round 1 caveat.

The style of attack was roughly similar to 2023: highly conservative into good ball, then very active in the 20m zone with all angle set at the corners.

As mentioned, the Sharks did well to counteract how the Wahs go, and their early year attack wasn’t polished enough to problem solve their way out on the fly.

The combinations, especially in the backline, aren’t quite there yet: RTS is on the left, which has moved Rocco Berry to the right, while Taine Tuaupiki is not the finished product that Charze Nicoll-Klokstad, injured tonight, was in 2023.


In truth, the Warriors looked a lot like this early last year too. Their sharp attack came a lot later in the year and obscured a start that was solid rather than spectacular.

If 2024 is the same, then this will be totally fine, not to mention the addition of a superstar like Tuivasa-Sheck.

The other aspects were all there. Shaun Johnson kicked superbly and did all the pressure building, while Luke Metcalf proved his running threat with a stunning solo try.

Addin Fonua-Blake was exceptional, Egan straightened the attack and Tohu Harris linked inside and out.

It’s all encouraging stuff, and while the results are always important, the processes matter too. They were all there.

Can Cronulla defend now?

The big knock on the Sharks has been their ability to compete with the best, which in turn was largely a question of their ability to defend with the best.


With that in mind, there was plenty to like about the way Cronulla withstood a maelstrom in the first half.

Though they did go 12-0 down, that was actually a good result given the 80/20 split of the ball through the first 20 minutes. A much wider scoreline would not have been unfair.

Some of that was heroics in defence – Will Kennedy’s trysaver on Jackson Ford – but plenty of it was collective effort on the goalline and solid organisation.

Crucially, when Cronulla did finally get the ball, they still managed to put on their own moves.

Fitzgibbon has often spoken of the need not only to expend energy in defence but also to force the opposition to do the same – ‘throwing back’ is usually his line – and for a team like the Sharks who rely so much on men in motion, that isn’t always a given.

The tries they did concede were the result of smart play from the Wahs, who spotted tired men in the line and managed to exploit the mismatches that followed, but their usual attack was heavily blunted.


Part of that was the usual early season clunk, but there was also an element of Cronulla’s defensive work, which took the corners off the Warriors and starved Tuivasa-Sheck of meaningful ball.

While he slipped inside Jesse Ramien more than once, that might not be an accident: the centre was deliberately defending wide so as not to allow anything down the outside and to force the Warriors back where they came from.

Late in the game, it was all hands to the pump but the line didn’t breach. In the end, it made the Warriors look very blunt indeed.

If Cronulla can repeatedly show this sort of defence, they might well be able to shift their flat track bullies tag. It’s Round 1, but signs are positive.