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


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, 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.

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. 

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. 

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

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. 


The Sharks have come alive towards the end of the first half! ????????????

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BLOG https://t.co/0kXITLFs0F
???? MATCH CENTRE https://t.co/dFWKgWfg5q pic.twitter.com/esjtktUmxm

— Fox League (@FOXNRL) March 31, 2024

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. 

Kayal Iro scores his first NRL try and it’s a big one!

The Sharks take the lead! ????

???? Watch #NRLSharksRaiders on ch.502 or stream on Kayo: https://t.co/B1ijnGXtqA
BLOG https://t.co/0kXITLFs0F
???? MATCH CENTRE https://t.co/dFWKgWfg5q pic.twitter.com/QXx1GnZOGS

— Fox League (@FOXNRL) March 31, 2024

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.

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.

Five tries in a row after being down 18 nil…

The Sharks have completely turned this game around! ????

???? Watch #NRLSharksRaiders on ch.502 or stream on Kayo: https://t.co/B1ijnGXtqA
BLOG https://t.co/0kXITLFs0F
???? MATCH CENTRE https://t.co/dFWKgWfg5q pic.twitter.com/AX0iNWgl4g

— Fox League (@FOXNRL) March 31, 2024

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, 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.

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