As the old saying goes – when it ain’t your night, it ain’t your night.
Cronulla captain Paul Gallen endured an unhappy 300th NRL game after the Sharks were beaten 32-10 by Brisbane on Friday night.
The Broncos were deserved winners at Suncorp Stadium, running in five tries to two to climb into second place on the NRL table, with Newcastle’s upset win over Parramatta ensuring Cronulla remain in the top four – for now – despite the defeat.
What could go wrong for Cronulla, did. Already without Jack Bird with a shoulder problem, the Sharks lost Chris Heighington in the warm up with Sam Tagataese coming into the squad.
Gallen, the 29th player in the history of the game to play 300 NRL games, was booed by the parochial home crowd from his first run. Two poor passes in the first half, one from Chad Townsend and one from Wade Graham, summed up Gallen’s night, forcing the former NSW captain into errors. The loss continued a poor record for Gallen in milestone games, with the veteran now having lost his 100th, 200th and 300th first grade games.
The Sharks welcomed back James Maloney from a broken hand but it was also a difficult night for the NSW five-eighth.
Brisbane took the lead after five minutes when Matt Gillett isolated Maloney, breaking a tackle to race through and score out wide.
The Broncos were out to an 8-0 lead midway through the first half thanks to an Anthony Milford penalty goal when Maloney was penalised for holding on too long after making a try-saving tackle.
Cronulla failed to get going for much of the first half, making a number of mistakes in attack with some last-ditch defending enough to keep them in the game before Darius Boyd extended the lead.
The Sharks hit back moments before half-time when Luke Lewis celebrated his 34th birthday with a try to reduce the deficit to 14-6 at the break.
But any thoughts Cronulla had of launching a comeback were snuffed out by a rampant start to the second half from Brisbane. Three quick tries, two to giant centre Tautau Moga and one to Corey Oates, put the Broncos out to a 30-6 advantage.
Moga’s first try featured a delightful in and away on Kurt Capewell before he brushed off Townsend for his second.
The Sharks scored a late consolation through Gerard Beale but it wasn’t enough to save Cronulla from a second humbling defeat in as many weeks.
It’s hard to write off the reigning premiers, a team featuring Gallen, Maloney, Graham, Lewis, Valentine Holmes and Andrew Fifta among others. But this performance on the back of Cronulla’s big loss to Canberra last week will raise more questions about the Sharks’ ability to be the first side to win back to back titles since the Broncos in 1992-92.
At this rate Cronulla have a tough ask just making the top four. Manly and North Queensland could leapfrog them by the end of the weekend if they beat the Wests Tigers and Penrith respectively. The Sharks also face the Cowboys and fellow heavyweights the Sydney Roosters in the next fortnight.
An appalling completion rate of just 59 per cent, a whopping 54 missed tackles and 16 errors with the ball told the story of Cronulla’s night.
Cronulla fans have been waiting for the Sharks to kick into gear for most of the season, but time is running out for the real Cronulla to come out and play.
Brisbane Broncos 32 (Tautau Moga two, Matt Gillett, Darius Boyd, Corey Oates tries. Anthony Milford six goals)
Cronulla Sharks 10 (Luke Lewis, Gerard Beale tries. James Maloney goal)
at Suncorp Stadium
Leader man of the match: Darius Boyd (Broncos)
Sharks’ next three: Cowboys (away), Roosters (home), Knights (away)