By Nathan Beumann
The Cronulla Sharks have started their 2014 VB NSW Cup campaign in style, with a comprehensive 38-30 victory over the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs at Belmore Sports Ground on Saturday.
Despite losing fullback Nathan Gardner to a shoulder injury in the opening stages of the match, Cronulla led for much of the game, courtesy of a dazzling three try outing from hooker Michael Lichaa.
The Bulldogs opened the scoring in the 5th minute, when a fast thinking Jaline Graham jumped on a loose ball before running 80 metres to score, giving his side an early 6-0 lead.
The defending Premiers were fast to reply though, when prop forward Tim Robinson shrugged off several defenders to crash his way over and level the scores back up at six a piece just four minutes later.
Canterbury-Bankstown hit back quickly, when a short ball from Brad Clark found a waiting Makahesi Makatoa, who crossed adjacent to the right hand upright to put the Dogs up 12-6 following the Pat Templeman conversion.
A slick piece of play down the right hand edge from Cronulla’s five-eight Kurt Mann saw Nathan Stapleton cross in the 19th minute, bringing the visitors back to within two.
Michael Lichaa capped off a dominant first half for the visitors, crossing for three converted tries in the space of ten minutes, to send the Sharks in 28-12 ahead at half time.
Cronulla didn’t let up after the break, with Lichaa continuing to toy with Canterbury’s defence, bursting his way through a tiring Bulldogs line to set up Scott Sorensen under the posts, extending the lead to 34-12.
Tony Herman didn’t have to wait long for his side’s next points, when a Penani Manumalealii cross field kick was tapped back infield by Nathan Stapleton, into the waiting arms of new recruit Jacob Gagan, to give Cronulla a commanding 38-12 lead with 30 minutes to play.
A late fight back led by Jaline Graham saw the Dogs run in four tries in the final 20 minutes, but it wasn’t enough, falling eight points short against a Cronulla outfit that will be very tough to beat once again in season 2014.
This weekend the Sharks head out to Campbelltown on Saturday to face the Tigers while also on Saturday, the Bulldogs will be at Belmore again as they host Manly.
Cronulla Sharks 38 (M Lichaa 3, N Stapleton, T Robinson, S Sorensen, J Gagan tries; N Stapleton 5 goals) def. Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs 30 (J Graham, P Templeman, E Murphy, M Makatoa, J Sila, H Alaalatoa tries; P Templeman 3 goals) at Belmore Sports Ground.