Sharks shock reigning premiers to prove they have title credentials
Cronulla claim they can see the path to mounting a serious challenge in the finals after taking it to Penrith early in their 20-10 loss to the defending premiers.
The Sharks let an early 10-0 lead slip in the defeat, as the Panthers came from behind at halftime on Saturday to win for the first time this year,
But there was still plenty to like for a Cronulla side who finish the round in third spot.
The Panthers scored only three tries despite having the bulk of the ball, as the Sharks repelled their attacks for the majority of the final 60 minutes of the match.
Ultimately, Cronulla proved their own worst enemy with poor errors regularly made out of their own end, as coach Craig Fitzgibbon conceded fatigue became an issue.
But after beating understrength Melbourne and North Queensland sides in recent weeks, there is now clear proof they can take it to the competition’s elite.
“We trained with intent this week, our attitude has been spot on, we have been building with performance and were ready to test ourselves,” Fitzgibbon said.
“They’re all things that you have to get out of a footy team to be good at the end of the year. We will take a lot out of that.
“But there are things we know we have to work on with execution.
“We just want to catch earlier, pass better, be a little deeper in attack. Get our timing right.
“They’re small adjustments to make sure we mount pressure, then I will be confident.”
Meanwhile, the Sharks were adamant that Dale Finucane would have nothing to worry about, after his sickening head clash with Stephen Crichton.
Crichton required an appointment with a plastic surgeon with his ear torn apart, after Finucane rushed out of the line and made head-first contact with the centre.
Penrith have since questioned why, at the very least, a penalty was not blown, particularly given the NRL’s crackdown on head contact in recent years.
But Cronulla were confident the right call was made not to penalise Finucane, and he would not be charged by the match review committee.
“It was a big head clash,” Fitzgibbon said.
“His arms did come up pretty spectacularly after it, but I thought it was a pretty flush head-on tackle for me.”
Meanwhile, the Sharks were also unhappy that Viliame Kikau was not penalised for what they claimed was a shoulder charge on Connor Tracey in the final six minutes.
With the match in the balance at 14-10 to the Panthers, a penalty would have put the Sharks on the attack but they were instead forced to battle out of their own end.
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