Emotional week for Cronulla Sharks ends with 38-12 win over Newcastle Knights to keep top four hopes alive

Record breaker: Valentine Holmes became the first Sharks player in history to score 20 tries in a season. Picture: John Veage
Record breaker: Valentine Holmes became the first Sharks player in history to score 20 tries in a season. Picture: John Veage

Cronulla has provided the nation with its next prime minister but will they provide the NRL with its next premiers?

On this evidence, the jury is still out.

The Sharks overcame a scrappy first half to down Newcastle 38-12 on Sunday to keep their top four hopes alive heading into the final round of the season.

It was a big day in the shire. Scott Morrison wasn’t at Southern Cross Group Stadium but 11,836 fans were to pay tribute to Lance Thompson.

It had been an emotional end to the week for Sharks coach Shane Flanagan and a number of his players after former Sharks and Dragons player Thompson’s death on Thursday night.

Cronulla retired their number 12 jersey for the afternoon out of respect for Thompson, with Wade Graham wearing 23 in his return from a knee injury.

The Sharks also gave a nod to their past as well as gave a glimpse into their future. Cronulla said farewell to veteran Luke Lewis who played his final home game in the black, white and blue.

There was also a first grade debut for Kyle Flanagan, with Matt Moylan rested as a precaution over a hamstring problem.

Flanagan’s afternoon started inauspiciously, giving away a penalty for a high tackle on Shaun Kenny-Dowall in the second minute.

The Knights failed to find touch gifting Cronulla possession, with the Sharks opening the scoring shortly after through a Valentine Holmes penalty goal.

A number of errors and penalties blighted much of a scrappy opening quarter, with Lewis going closest to scoring on 20 minutes.

Cronulla’s pressure eventually told when, on the back of a number of penalties, a Flanagan offload allowed Chad Townsend to float a long, looping cutout pass to Josh Dugan who did well to catch and touch down for the first try.

Knights had injury added to insult, with Lachlan Fitzgibbon forced off after a sickening head clash with teammate Josh King. Trainers spent several minutes tending to Fitzgibbon, though his substitution brought former Sharks favourite Chris Heighington onto the field to a rousing ovation at the southern end.

Newcastle got themselves back into the match on the half hour mark when Andrew Fifita deflected a Mitchell Pearce grubber kick into the path of Knights fullback Nick Meaney to score next to the posts.

The Knights lost Aidan Guerra to the sin bin for repeated infringements three minutes before half-time. Cronulla made the most of their numerical advantage when Townsend produced a replica of the pass for the Sharks’ opening try for Edrick Lee to score in the corner.

Cronulla extended their 14-6 half-time lead when Sosaia Feki crashed over out wide seven minutes after the break.

The Knights hit back when prop Daniel Saifiti scored under the posts only for Holmes to seal the result moments later with his 20th try of the campaign.

The superstar fullback sliced between two defenders before wrong-footing Meaney to break Cronulla’s all-time try-scoring record in a single season, a record he already shared with Sharks legend David Peachey.

Holmes added a penalty goal to secure the points when Fifita’s neck was caught awkwardly in a tackle.

Lee, who will play for Newcastle next season, scored his second try against his future employers after Dugan had batted back a Graham cross-field kick, though replays showed Dugan had pushed a Knights defender in the back.

Cronulla saved their best for last, with a miraculous Feki banana kick somehow finding Townsend for the halfback to score under the posts.

The win was Cronulla’s eighth-straight against Newcastle. Despite their slow start, the Sharks managed to find away to see off the stubborn Knights.

The Sharks climbed into the NRL’s top four with the victory, momentarily at least.

With heavyweights South Sydney and the Sydney Roosters stumbling in recent weeks the premiership race is wide open.

Can Cronulla win a second title in three season?

Only time will tell.

Leader Scoreboard

Cronulla Sharks 38 (Edrick Lee two, Josh Dugan, Sosaia Feki, Valentine Holmes, Chad Townsend tries. Valentine Holmes six, Edrick Lee goals)

defeated

Newcastle Knights 12 (Nick Meaney, Daniel Saifiti tries. Ken Sio two goals)

at Southern Cross Group Stadium, Woolooware

Crowd: 11,836

Leader man of the match: Valentine Holmes (Sharks)

Sharks’ next game: Bulldogs (away)

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