By Nicholas Janzen at Ringrose Park
Reigning premiers Cronulla confirmed they are once again VB NSW Cup title threats following an impressive 40-36 victory against second-placed Wentworthville at Ringrose Park on Sunday.
The Sharks ran in seven tries and did just enough when it was required to record their 11th win of the season and consolidate their position in the top eight.
In an afternoon of attacking football – and some tackle-shy defence – home side Wentworthville also crossed for seven four-pointers, with the accurate goal-kicking of Sharks playmaker Daniel Holdsworth ultimately proving the difference.
The Magpies opened the scoring after a penalty put them on the attack early in the match. A simple shift left gifted winger Bureta Faraimo an easy try on the eastern touchline, a play that set the standard for what would be an attack-centred 80 minutes of hot-potato football.
It, however, looked likely to be a one-sided afternoon when Wentworthville prop Isaac Maliota crashed over minutes later to make it 10-nil, but the Sharks surged back into the contest following strong work from their powerful forward pack.
Melbourne Storm-contracted front-rower George Rose opened the scoring for Cronulla after a determined run saw him crash over close to the posts. It triggered two further Sharks four-pointers to Scott Sorensen and Tupou Sopoaga and at 18-10 the visitors held the ascendancy.
But the home side, on Family Fun Day with an impressive crowd watching on, were desperate to make it a contest – and Henry Raiwalui’s touchline try and Luke Kelly’s sideline conversion made it just that.
Another converted try to a Wenty front-rower – this time Daniel Alvaro – handed the Magpies the lead with eight minutes remaining in the first half. Their status as front-runners, however, would be short lived as Nathan Gardner, Holdsworth and Justin O’Neill scored for the visitors shortly before the break to hand Cronulla a 34-22 lead.
Holdsworth’s try, in particular, was something straight out of the top drawer as a spread to the right ended in a centred grubber kick that bounced over the Magpies fullback and into the halfback’s arms to score between the posts.
Wentworthville, however, were by no means dead and buried after the restart of play, storming back into the contest in the second half despite a run of six straight penalties to the visitors. Justin Hunt benefitted from a sublime short ball from Ken Sio to crash over and, even following a Cronulla try to Matt Prior, were trailing by just eight when Faraimo scored his second.
The Wenty winger’s effort, an athletic, Superman-like dive to score millimetres inside the dead-ball line, kept the Magpies’ faithful on their feet and on the edge of their seats as it neared fulltime.
When Henry Raiwalui also scored his second the intensity rose to another level but Cronulla held on – just – to secure their third win on the trot. Ultimately the difference was the goal-kicking with Cronulla’s Holdsworth landing six from seven compared with Kelly who kicked just four.
Next week the Magpies travel to WIN Stadium to face Illawarra while the Sharks head further west, playing the Panthers at Carrington Park, Bathurst.
Cronulla Sharks 40 (N Gardner, J O'Neill, D Holdsworth, S Sorensen, G Rose, M Prior, T Sopoaga tries; D Holdsworth 6 goals) def. Wentworthville Magpies 36 (B Faraimo 2, H Raiwalui 2, D Alvaro, I Maliota, J Hunt tries; L Kelly 4 goals) at Ringrose Park.