No Origin stars? No worries.
Daniel Mortimer marked his Cronulla debut with two vital try assists to help Cronulla steal a 24-22 win over the Wests Tigers on Saturday night.
The Sharks, without five of their State of Origin representatives, trailed 12-4 at half-time and 22-14 with six minutes remaining before late tries to Edrick Lee and Jayson Bukuya maintained Cronulla’s place in the top four.
It looked like it was going to be another frustrating night for Cronulla at Southern Cross Group Stadium as the Tigers, without their own Origin representatives in James Tedesco and Aaron Woods, battled bravely and looked like they would do enough to hold on for a memorable victory.
But a try to back-rower Bukuya on the back of a Mortimer grubber with less than two minutes to play saw the Sharks sneak home.
Cronulla had earlier failed to take advantage of Tigers prop Ava Seumanufagai being sent to the sin bin for tackling Paul Gallen while in an off-side position from a penalty after just six minutes.
Seumanufagai, who will join the Sharks next season, came back just in time for Cronulla to take the lead through Kurt Capewell after a sloppy opening 20 minutes.
Capewell, replacing Jack Bird at right centre, scored his first NRL try since joining the club from Queensland Cup side Ipswich at the start of last season.
Tigers fullback Kevin Naiqama went close after chasing his own grubber kick. But the visitors would hit the lead from the ensuing set when Elijah Taylor crashed over from a short Matthew Eisenhuth pass.
The Tigers extended their lead six minutes before half-time when Esan Marsters showed good strength to wrestle his way over from close range. But Cronulla would have been unhappy with a penalty given against Bukuya for a high tackle on Luke Brooks on the final play of the previous set which gave possession back to the Tigers.
The Sharks went close just before the break through the excellent Capewell who beat three Tigers defenders before kicking for Lee, only for the giant winger to be beaten to the ball.
Jacob Liddle had the Tigers out to a 12-point lead seven minutes into the second half when he scooted from dummy half close to the line to score a soft try.
But the introduction of Mortimer for his first minutes in the black, white and blue led to the try of the match five minutes later.
Mortimer shot out of dummy half and found Joseph Paulo, who showed quick hands to find Sosaia Feki back on the inside with the winger breaking the line and surging downfield. Feki found Chad Townsend in support and, though Brooks pulled him down just short of the line, the Tigers No.7 couldn’t hold on long enough to complete the tackle with Townsend getting up and diving over the line.
Cronulla scored again 10 minutes later when Capewell miraculously stretched out to score his second to have the Sharks trailed 16-14.
Just when Cronulla looked like they were about to storm home, the Tigers scored against the run of play. Feki dropped the ball as he attempted to run it out of the Sharks’ end. The Tigers crossed a couple of plays later with Malakai Watene Zelezniak touching down in the corner.
But the Sharks weren’t finished, with Lee scoring in the corner from a right-edge raid, with Townsend’s conversion reducing the deficit to 22-20 with five minutes to play.
And with two minutes to go Cronulla took the lead, with Mortimer’s grubber close to the line grounded by Bukuya to spark wild celebrations at Shark Park.
Cronulla Sharks 24 (Kurt Capewell two, Chad Townsend, Edrick Lee, Jayson Bukuya tries. Chad Townsend two goals)
Wests Tigers 22 (Elijah Taylor, Esan Marsters, Jacob Liddle, Malakai Watene Zelezniak tries. Tuimoala Lolohea three goals)
at Southern Cross Group Stadium
Leader man of the match: Kurt Capewell (Sharks)
Sharks’ next three: Sea Eagles (home), Roosters (away), BYE