The Roar
The Roar


Flaky Sharks storm back from 18-point deficit to run down Raiders on the back of 'unacceptable' Savage blunder

Autoplay in... 6 (Cancel)
Up Next No more videos! Playlist is empty -
31st March, 2024

Cronulla are a long way from the kind of form which can bring them into the premiership conversation but after going 18-0 down at Shark Park on Sunday night, they were just happy to get out of jail by running down Canberra. 

The Sharks surged back into the contest to level the scores by half-time and added two more unanswered tries to complete a stunning 36-22 victory.

While they were without several regular forwards and coming off a thumping loss to the Wests Tigers, they were still considered slight favourites at home to a Raiders team which is expected to play no part in the 2024 finals equation. 

Craig Fitzgibbon’s troops are one of five teams locked on six competition points at the top of the ladder heading into their bye next weekend but they still have to improve a lot more to shed their reputation of being flat-track bullies.

“I think we played a patch of 12-14 minutes of half-decent football, outside that we were embarrassed. It was awful,” Canberra coach Ricky Stuart fumed. “That is definitely not us,” he added in a familiar refrain after a loss.

“We started the season really well and that was dismal.

“We weren’t going to pin them back with the way we were playing. We won’t be forgetting that night real quickly, I can promise you. It was really poor. And it will be dealt with,” he added ominously for any players wondering whether they will be feeling the brunt of his frustration come selection time.


Sleeping Sharks wake up just in time

The first half was a game of two halves (quarters in the grand scheme of the 80-minute contest) with the Raiders running riot before the Sharks hit back with gusto.

James Schiller stepped through Will Kennedy’s tackle after a clever interchange of passing from Zac Hosking and Jamal Fogarty to open the scoring in the 11th minute.

Canberra’s other winger Xavier Savage claimed the second try of the match with a superb solo try from a scrum win and when hooker Danny Levi wrestled the ball down from dummy-half, the Green Machine had powered to an 18-0 advantage. 

“We’ve been guilty of being our own worst enemy and none more so than in the opening stages there,” Fitzgibbon said. “That was on us, we need to be stronger than that. I love that we did something about it but still we’ve got to be stronger.”

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 31: Jesse Ramien of the Sharks is tackled during the round four NRL match between Cronulla Sharks and Canberra Raiders at PointsBet Stadium, on March 31, 2024, in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Jesse Ramien is tackled. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Cronulla stemmed the bleeding when five-eighth Braydon Trindall dummied his way over from short range and their momentum gained further steam on the back of towering young forward Tuku Hau Tapuha’s entry. 


The former Rooster charged into the Canberra defensive line and they struggled to cope with his power and size. 

They made it a six-point deficit when the ball was spun left by a Nicho Hynes bullet pass for Ronaldo Mulitalo to touch down. 

Canberra should have gone to the break ahead but Savage was caught snoozing when an innocuous kick from Blayke Brailey took a U-turn from the sideline.

Savage casually turned around to locate opposing winger Sione Katoa, who was already speeding past him to latch onto the ball and send a pass bouncing back infield for Brailey to lock it up at 18-18 at half-time. 

Former Sharks premiership-winning hooker Michael Ennis described Savage’s error as “unacceptable” on Fox League commentary and he was not wrong.

Canberra suffered a blow early in the second stanza when Hosking was concussed when he put his head on the wrong side of Cameron McInnes as he tried to bring down the Cronulla captain. 


The deadlock was broken on the hour mark when rookie centre Kayal Iro hit a gap on the left edge after Trindall was allowed to drift wide before delivering the money ball. 

Iro, whose dad Kevin and uncle Tony were Kiwi stalwarts a generation ago, has long been considered a star of the future and got his chance after Siosifa Talakai was switched to the pack to make up for the absence of Briton Nikora, Royce Hunt, Toby Rudolf and Braden Hamlin-Uele.

“He’s so studious,” Fitzgibbon said of Iro. “He’s worked so hard to get to this level and to get out there and perform was impressive to watch.”

A few minutes later the Sharks attacked the same channel and Hynes set up Kennedy to dribble in a kick for Mulitalo to finish the attacking movement and all but finish off the Raiders with the home team’s fifth straight try.

They could have been further in front if not for disallowed tries to Hynes and utility Dan Atkinson and when Schiller sprinted over in the 72nd minute, Fogarty had a chance to set up a nail-biting finish but his sideline conversion bounced clear off the upright.

Mulitalo looked set for a hat-trick late in the piece after making a lengthy break but after the play broke down, Katoa claimed a well-deserved try on the other wing to cap off a remarkable comeback for Cronulla in the dying seconds.


Hunting as a pack

With several of their first-choice forwards out, Cronulla’s pack hunted as one to outmuscle Canberra’s big boppers in the middle.

McInnes was everywhere in defence for the entire 80 minutes, Brailey added some classy touches out of dummy-half while bench forward Jack Williams rattled a few Raiders with some bone-jarring hits.

The elevation of Hau Tapuha to the top grade has been slow at the Sutherland Shire but now he’s got a taste for it, Fitzgibbon will find it tough to leave him out of his game-day 17.

He was signed early last year by Fitzgibbon, who knew of his talents from his time as Roosters assistant coach, and the 22-year-old, who played three NRL matches for the Tricolours in 2021, only got 10 minutes in his Cronulla debut a couple of weeks ago against Canterbury.

Standing at 196cm and tipping the scales at 114kg of Maori muscle, he has the potential to be a game-changer for a Cronulla pack which is filled with workers but lacks an imposing presence.


They will get Nikora back from suspension when they return from the bye while Finucane (concussion) and Hamlin-Uele (knee) are also likely to be suiting up in a fortnight when they travel to Accor Stadium to face Souths.