Date: 19 March 2012
Venue: Toyota Stadium
Conditions: Wet and greasy
Score: Cronulla 17, Manly 14.
The first half of football by the Sharks was their best half of footy so far this year. With an abundance of possession the ball was moving freely, our second phase play was looking slick and our boys were breaking the line on a consistent basis. The only thing that had stopped us from going into the sheds with an even bigger lead than 17-0 was what is now becoming a worrying trend - the inability to finish off opportunities. Ask Stone Hands Pomeroy about fumbling a grubber kick your grandma could have gathered and touched down.
Then came the second half where we started with a hiss and a roar...and it pretty much went downhill from there. For 65 minutes our defence was terrific, but as we all know it's the last 15 minutes which are the most important. There is absolutely no reason why we should have let them back into the game. Shane Flanagan said what every Sharks fan was feeling in those last 5 minutes - that it was gonna be a repeat of last year's game. (Had it been, I'm pretty sure I would have gone and cracked some Manly scum in the face, setting off another brawl like last year also. Of course, had that happened I'd probably be in the morgue.)
Manly, however, did not deserve to win and I'm not just saying that as a fan of theirs. They were ill disciplined on defense - Tony Williams in particular should be getting a long stint on the sidelines despite whatever bullshit flows out of Geoff Toovey's mouth - and lacked any real offensive spark until the last 20 minutes. Our defense did a good job of shutting them down but when they did get chances they too failed to convert them. One particular example that comes to mind was a first-half break by Michael Oldfield which would have led to a certain try had Williams not dropped a catchable pass.
Still, when all is said and done we got out of the game with the first win of the season. And God it felt good to belt out Up Up Cronulla. As I told my mum when I got home, I'd almost forgotten how good winning felt.
Danger Signs: Two big ones. Firstly, the near-collapse in the last few minutes. Other than 2008, this has seemingly been a trait of every Sharks team of the last few years - not specifically late game meltdowns but just the inability to play a complete 80 minute game on both offense and defense. When we do so we can beat anyone.
Secondly, the same thing I mentioned earlier that has bugged us all season - the sheer inability to convert offensive opportunities. Look at the stats. We lead the league in metres gained by a significant margin. Same with offloads. And we're second equal for line breaks behind just the Doggieeez. We should be putting 30 points on teams and we would be if we could get it together in the red zone. Thankfully tonight we saw the boys move away from the horribly predictable game plan down there of recent years with a lot more ball movement. I would however like to see us reducing our reliance on the bomb as a fifth tackle play, but I'll have more on this later.
Positives: Actually there are plenty. Even in the wet our offense continues to sparkle and threaten in our own half, something we haven't seen in years. The second phase play continues to be smart and effective. Our defense was rock solid for most of the game.
And, of course, the unstoppable half man/half android that is Paul Gallen/God. I'll just list his stats here:
30 runs for 249 metres.
Any other player, these would be near superhuman. For Gal it's almost got to the point where this is another day at the office for him, that we as fans expect this kind of performance. He's getting to a point where if he has another few good years we're not just going to be talking about him as a future Sharks Immortal but a future rugby league immortal. No one in the game today has a bigger motor, plays with more heart and continues to inspire his men through his work.
Flanagan moved him to prop tonight, the position where he turned in an Origin performance for the ages last year and where I along with many other Sharks fans believe he is best suited. If Gal has a flaw it's that at times he tries to sometimes do a bit too much. Again, it's just because he cares, but he shouldn't be trying to play five eighth or even act as a distributor when his greatest skill is running the football. He has a nice offload at times but he should keep his ball playing to that. At prop he doesn't feel the pressure to do so and can focus on brutalizing the other defense - of course a great game by our halves tonight helped. Todd Carney had his best game in Sharks colours and Jeff Robson was a surprisingly effective foil with a solid kicking game.
Conclusion: The good signs we've seen so far this year continued tonight. For the first time in ages we seem to have a genuinely threatening offense and our defense held them down for most of the game. If the boys learn to execute consistently and defend for 80 minutes we have a shot at becoming one of the best teams in the comp.
I'm out. Gal be with you.