An under-strength Cronulla maintained their place in the NRL’s top four with a professional 26-12 win over the New Zealand Warriors.
The Sharks were without a number of players through injury and lost Fa’amanu Brown to a sickening head knock midway through the second half but still found a way to grind out a 14-point victory in Auckland on Friday night.
James Maloney (hand), Jayden Brailey (jaw) and Jack Bird (sternum) were already missing for Cronulla but a typically strong effort from captain Paul Gallen and an assured performance from Chad Townsend was enough to steer the Sharks to their 13th win of the season.
Cronulla kicked their habit of starting poorly, taking the lead in the fourth minute. Kurt Capewell, in for the second week in a row starting at right centre in the absence of Bird, showed more desperation than Solomone Kata to chase through and touch down from Townsend’s grubber kick.
The Sharks could have doubled the lead soon after when Andrew Fifita fielded a cross-field Townsend kick. The giant prop looked certain to score only for the ball to be stripped, though match officials ruled Fifita had lost the ball.
The Warriors came into the game and enjoyed plenty of field position but bombed a number of chances in good attacking areas. Issac Luke went closest, only for Luke Lewis to miraculously hold him up over the line.
When the hosts finally did post points it came against the run of play. Kata intercepted a James Segeyaro pass on halfway and ran 50 metres untouched to level the score.
But the Warriors produced a typically frustrating play from the next set that was to gift the lead back to Cronulla. A dropped ball 35 metres out allowed Brown to swoop and race through to score.
A Valentine Holmes penalty goal five minutes into the second half extended Cronulla’s advantage to 14-6 before the Warriors hit back. Bodene Thompson strolled through from a short Mason Lino pass to reduce the deficit to two points with half an hour to play.
The Sharks received a blow on the hour mark when they lost Brown to a sickening head knock after the young five-eighth copped the knee of Sam Lisone while making a tackle. Brown was carried from the field and played no further part.
But despite losing Brown Cronulla all but sealed the result two minutes later when the Sharks’ leading try-scorer Sosaia Feki crossed for his 12th of the season on the back of a slick shift to the left and classy catch and pass from Ricky Leutele.
Jayson Bukuya crossed late to add some gloss to the final score as the Sharks maintained their place in the top four.
Cronulla Sharks 26 (Kurt Capewell, Fa’amanu Brown, Sosaia Feki, Jayson Bukuya tries. Valentine Holmes five goals)
New Zealand Warriors 12 (Solomone Kata, Bodene Thompson. Issac Luke two goals)
at Mt Smart Stadium, Auckland
Leader man of the match: Paul Gallen (Sharks)
Sharks’ next three: Raiders (home), Broncos (away), Cowboys (away)