Cronulla Sharks coach Shane Flanagan lamented his side’s first half performance as the Canberra Raiders blew away the Sharks in the first 40 minutes on Saturday night.
The Sharks took an early lead before conceding three soft tries to trail 24-8 at half-time, the worst of which was a simple pass out of dummy half from Joey Leilua on the blind side with Jordan Rapana diving over in the corner.
Cronulla went on to lose 30-12 and now face a battle to maintain their place in the top four.
“It was just a frustrating game and we came up with some uncharacteristic decisions,” Flanagan said.
“There were three tries that we should have handled. We knew they were coming. The lady down the corner shop would have known BJ Leilua was going to come out and pass to Rapana on that side there.
“[Same with] the other try to Josh Papalii. We knew they were all coming, we just didn’t handle them so that was the disappointing thing for me. The kick try, so that’s 18 points that we just leaked in. It was all over after that.”
Cronulla had the sniff of a comeback when they reduced the deficit to 24-12 and Papalii was sent to the sin bin for a professional foul.
But a dropped ball from the tap re-start was the last time Cronulla touched the ball for the 10 minutes Papalii was off the field as the Raiders managed being down to 12 players masterfully, kicking three penalty goals to extend their lead.
The error changed the momentum of the game, with Flanagan agreeing it was the turning point in the second half.
“No, we didn’t touch [the ball after Papalii went off]. That was the one tackle. They handled it well, they took three shots at goal,” Flanagan said.
“They didn’t score a try in the second half but as I said the damage was done in the first half. They controlled it well when they had a player in the sin bin. Kicked three goals and we were chasing our tail. When you’re not on it’s hard.”
Raiders captain Jarrod Croker said his young squad would take confidence from beating the reigning premiers on their own home ground for the second year in a row.
“I think we’ve learnt a lot over the 22 weeks of the season so far. For a guy like Nicky Cotric to come to Shark Park for the first time and get a grinding, tough win and play some good footy [is pleasing],” he said.
“They’re the defending premiers and it’s only going to help him along and the rest of the boys.”
Flanagan said representative five-eighth James Maloney would return from a broken hand against Brisbane on Friday night, while young hooker Jayden Brailey should be available to play the Cowboys the following week.
Jack Bird left the field with a shoulder complaint in the dying stages but it is understood the injury is not as bad as first thought.