It was hot and cold at times but there was enough from Cronulla’s star recruit Matt Moylan to have Sharks fans – and coach Shane Flanagan – excited about 2018.
Cronulla overcame a sluggish start to begin their pre-season campaign with a win, downing Manly 30-14 at Southern Cross Group Stadium on Saturday night.
The Sharks ran in six tries to three on a perfect night in the shire as they blew away the cobwebs in their first official pre-season trial.
Flanagan opted to hold back a number of his stars for next week’s trial with the Wests Tigers. Co-captains Paul Gallen and Wade Graham, Andrew Fifita, Matt Prior, Josh Dugan and Luke Lewis were among the absentees, while Trent Barrett chose to leave out Daly Cherry-Evans and Apisai Koroisau as well as Jake and Tom Trbojevic for Manly.
But it was a chance for Sharks fans to have their first look at star signing Moylan in the black, white and blue as Flanagan gave what will most likely be Cronulla’s starting spine for round one – Valentine Holmes, Moylan, Chad Townsend and Jayden Brailey – 40 minutes to work on their combinations.
Moylan was smashed early on in a tackle that was reminiscent of the one he suffered at the hands of Luke Lewis on the same ground when Moylan was still a Panther. He made two stone cold handling errors but there were also glimpses of the exciting running game that has the ability to tear teams apart.
Flanagan has not been shy over the summer in talking up Moylan. Not only for how he has settled at the club and how sharp he has looked in training, but what he expects Moylan to bring to this mostly settled Sharks side – an x-factor in attack absent since the loss of Ben Barba.
Barrett endured every NRL coach’s worst nightmare with one of his important players going down injured early on as prop Darcy Lussick was helped from the field after less than two minutes with an ankle injury and didn’t return.
Despite the setback the Sea Eagles flew out of the blocks to lead 8-0 inside 10 minutes with Brad Parker scoring twice, both tries coming from kicks.
Cronulla hit back after 16 minutes when the excellent Townsend fired a cut out pass for Sione Katoa, with the young winger showing silky footwork to score out wide. Moylan’s conversion made it 8-6 before Sosaia Feki went close for Cronulla only to be bundled into touch.
The Sharks were to hit the front soon after on the back of a Townsend 40-20.
A sustained spell of Cronulla pressure on Manly’s goal line saw Sea Eagles back-rower Frank Winterstein sent to the sin bin after Manly were penalised a number of times for play the ball infringements.
Jessie Ramien scored to give the Sharks a half-time lead before James Segeyaro extended it less than five minutes after the break with a soft try from dummy half.
Flanagan introduced a number of the club’s excellent youth products at half-time including Billy Magoulias, Blayke Brailey, Briton Nikora and his son, Kyle, as well as another new signing in Trent Hodkinson.
Nikora crossed with a strong run midway through the half from a short Kyle Flanagan pass before Edrick Lee’s acrobatic effort sealed the result.
Lloyd Perrett barged over for a late consolation try for Manly before Cronulla’s Cruz Topai-Aveai completed the scoring.
The Sharks head to Campbelltown to face the Wests Tigers in their final trial match next Saturday night before they start their NRL season in Townsville against North Queensland on March 9.
Cronulla Sharks 30 (Sione Katoa, Jesse Ramien, James Segeyaro, Briton Nikora, Edrick Lee, Cruz Topai-Aveai tries. Trent Hodkinson two, Matt Moylan goals)
Manly Sea Eagles 14 (Brad Parker two, Lloyd Perrett tries. Luke Metcalf goal)
at Southern Cross group Stadium
Sharks’ next three: Trial Tigers (away) February 24. NRL Cowboys (away) March 9. NRL Dragons (home) March 15.