Star signing Matt Moylan provided the first half x-factor as Cronulla ran out 24-12 winners over the Wests Tigers at Campbelltown in their final trial match on Saturday night.
Almost everything Moylan touched in the first 40 minutes turned to gold for Cronulla as they ran in four unanswered tries to lead 20-0 at half-time.
Cronulla were almost at full strength with only veteran Paul Gallen missing. There were plenty of new faces in both sides with Moylan, Josh Dugan and Trent Hodkinson all turning out for the Sharks with Josh Reynolds, Russell Packer and Ben Matulino appearing for the Tigers.
Moylan didn’t return for the second half, the Sharks taking a precaution with his knee but he had done enough. Shane Flanagan was desperate to sign Moylan because of his ability to play ad lib football and this was the evidence as Moylan continually probed the Tigers’ defensive line.
“That’s what he can do and that’s what I want him to do,” Flanagan said.
“I’ve got some players in there Val, Dugan, Moylan who can play off the top of their head and play unstructured footy and you need to be able to do that sometimes when the defence don’t do what you expect them to do so he did a really good job there.”
Moylan’s halves partner Chad Townsend was equally impressed.
“I thought he was really good. I thought some of his touches were really classy,” Townsend said.
“I said to him before the game you look really dangerous when you’re aggressive with the ball and running the ball. He threatened the line a couple of times tonight and he played what he saw which is the player that he is. We have structures in place but to go out of the structure is a good thing when you see the right thing and I thought he did that a few times tonight.
“He’s only going to get better I think and our combination has been working really well. It’s going to take some time until we hit our straps completely. I think we’re definitely heading in the right direction. We’ve been working really hard and we expect a lot of ourselves.”
Cronulla were in front from their first attack of the match. Moylan earned his side a penalty after being hit in a high tackle from Russell Packer. The Sharks marched downfield before a simple shift left saw Valentine Holmes find Ricky Leutele who produced a strong run to score out wide.
The Sharks were 12-0 in front midway through the first half again through their left side attack. This time they were rewarded for a short side raid with Moylan catching and kicking almost in the same motion with the ball ricocheting into the arms of Leutele whose flick pass found Holmes to score.
It began to look ominous for the Tigers on the half hour mark when Cronulla went left and scored again, with Wade Graham’s pinpoint grubber kick bouncing up perfectly for Sosaia Feki to touch down.
Cronulla were out to a 20-0 half-time lead when they scored their slickest try of the night just before the break. It was a play straight out of their 2016 premiership-winning playbook, a shift to the right with their No.1 sweeping around from the back. But instead of Ben Barba storming onto Townsend’s perfectly held up a pass it was Holmes who sliced through to score his second try of the night.
While Moylan enjoyed a happy night, it wasn’t as happy for Cronulla’s other big name recruit Dugan who left the field with 12 minutes remaining holding his jaw though Flanagan confirmed Dugan would be right for their round one clash with North Queensland.
Townsend, Luke Lewis and Holmes were all outstanding alongside Moylan in the first half in what Flanagan called the perfect trial performance.
The Tigers were much improved early in the second half and were rewarded with a try when fullback Corey Thompson punished Holmes who had dawdled on a Luke Brooks grubber kick in the in-goal.
They scored again with 15 minutes remaining as Pita Godinet made the most of some soft Cronulla goal line defence to score from dummy half before young Sharks winger Sione Katoa sealed the result late on.
Cronulla Sharks 24 (Valentine Holmes two, Ricky Leutele, Sosaia Feki, Sione Katoa tries. Chad Townsend two goals)
Wests Tigers 12 (Corey Thompson, Pita Godinet tries. Taane Milne, Esan Marsters goals)
at Campbelltown Sports Ground