By Brad Preston
26 unanswered first half points has given the Cronulla Sharks their second win of the 2014 VB NSW Cup season, keeping them in touch with the competition’s top eight.
Both teams were buoyed by some late inclusions with David Williams suiting up for Manly and Melbourne duo, George Rose and Ben Hampton, lining up for Tony Herman’s defending premiers.
Rose’s return to Brookvale forced recently signed PNG international Mark Mexico to start from the bench with Hampton slotting straight into Ben Roberts’ vacant number six jersey.
A solid crowd had already made their way into Brookvale and the crowd was especially interested in George Rose’s return to ‘the fortress’.
After struggling with the conditions early it was the Sharks who broke the scoring drought in the 8th minute with a try on the right edge to hard-running Fijian back-rower Junior Roqica.
Manly answered straight back when City Origin representative Tom Symonds scored from some hot potato style attack, much to the delight of the soaking wet Brookvale crowd.
As the rain eased the flood of points began for the Sharks as they gained a mountain of possession from some ill-discipline and handling errors by the home side.
The Sharks scored five unanswered tries in the next 28 minutes to completely blow the Sea Eagles out of the game.
Former Sea Eagle Jacob Gagan began the rot with the first of his two tries when he picked out a brilliant cut out ball from halfback Daniel Holdsworth to score in the north eastern corner. The two then combined again just minutes later but this time Holdsworth was the beneficiary and claimed a try under the posts.
Another former Sea Eagle Josh Portlock turned provider for Gagan’s second. Portlock’s offload in traffic attracted enough defensive pressure for the Cabramatta junior to sneak down the touch line and put the ball down almost in the same spot he did just seven minutes earlier.
The procession continued with David Fifita and Scott Sorensen scoring using nothing but brut strength and determination before the half time siren, which had the Sharks leading 32-4.
The Sea Eagles were a completely different side in the second half. Their goal-line defence was impeccable and their attack improved immensely. The Sharks on the other hand seemed to lose a bit in attack, which could have been attributed to the loss of Michael Lichha to a concussion at half time.
Cronulla peppered the Manly line in the early stages of the second half but the young Sea Eagles stood firm against a team which could easily pass for an NRL side.
After being camped down in their own half for the first 20 minutes of the second half, the Sea Eagles broke down field and from the ensuing set of six scored their second try of the match through Todd Wilson. Wilson beat Scott Sorensen in a foot race to pounce on a Masada Iosefa grubber and score under the posts.
The heaven’s opened again but the scoring dried up until the 70th minute when Penani Manumalealii grabbed a try from short range amongst some tiring Manly defence.
For the Sharks, fullback Kurt Mann was in everything and back-rower Junior Roqica put in another solid performance for coach Tony Herman.
While Manly fans would be disappointed with the final score line there were plenty of positives to take out of the game with the young Sea Eagles matching it with the reigning premiers in the second half.
To put it in perspective, premiership-winning hooker Pat Politoni was forced to be 18th man for the Sharks this week. A sign that this side has improved, if only in personnel, since dominating the competition last year.
In Round seven of the VB NSW Cup Manly face traditional rivals North Sydney at North Sydney Oval, while Cronulla host the resurgent Newtown Jets at Remondis Stadium.
Cronulla Sharks 38 ( J Gagan 2, J Roqica, D Holdsworth, D Fifita, S Sorensen, P Manumalealii tries; K Mann 5 goals) def. Manly Warringah Sea Eagles 10 (T Symonds, T Wilson tries; M Rudolph goal) at Brookvale Oval.