Cronulla Sharks come from behind to score gutsy 24-20 win over Penrith Panthers

A stirring second half fightback from Cronulla has seen the Sharks come from behind to down Penrith 24-20 on Thursday night.

The Sharks made it seven wins in a row against the Panthers to snap a two-game losing streak and get their season back on track.

It was a brave effort from the undermanned Sharks. Still without Matt Moylan, Wade Graham and Aaron Woods with long-term injuries, Cronulla were also without Sione Katoa.

Katoa's absence saw Will Kennedy celebrate his 22nd birthday with his NRL debut at fullback, with Josh Dugan shifting to the wing.

Cronulla have been known for a number of years as an experienced team, full of toughness and nous to grind out wins.

But it was a youthful look to this baby Sharks side under new coach John Morris. Along with Kennedy, young guns Briton Nikora, Bronson Xerri and the Brailey brothers have given Cronulla a freshen up - and it was they who sparked the second half resurgence.

Like all young players they will need to find their feet at NRL level. But they are showing encouraging signs.

Andrew Fifita was able to play despite suffering a hamstring injury in the loss to the Roosters last week, while veteran Paul Gallen returned from a rib injury.

Cronulla were also backing up from a short five-day turnaround and trailed 14-0 after just 19 minutes when former Sharks premiership-winning five-eighth James Maloney laid on tries for Tim Grant and Nathan Cleary for Penrith.

The Panthers took that lead to half-time as Cronulla continued their poor handling that has plagued the start to their season. But after the break, it was almost as if the Sharks simply flicked the switch.

Xerri introduced himself to the rest of the NRL with an electric effort for his first try in the top grade eight minutes into the second half, with the 18-year-old running 60m before burning Penrith fullback Dallin Watene-Zelezniak on the outside to score.

Just when Cronulla looked back in it they shot themselves in the foot. An error deep in their own half allowed Penrith to reestablish their 14-point lead when Waqa Blake crossed out wide.

But a sublime solo effort from young back-rower Nikora again dragged the Sharks back into the contest.

Nikora broke the Panthers line before producing a chip kick. With Chad Townsend looking certain to score, Watene-Zelezniak tackled the Sharks halfback without the ball, with match officials ruling a penalty try.

Cronulla set up a grand stand finish when Fifita barged over from close range to see the Sharks trail 20-18 with eight minutes to play.

But from the next set Cronulla won the game. An outstanding run from Kurt Capewell down the left gave the Sharks field position. A shift right saw Shaun Johnson hit Xerri early, with the youngster catching and passing in one motion for Dugan to touch down for the match winner.

Leader Scoreboard

Cronulla Sharks 24 (Bronson Xerri, Andrew Fifita, Josh Dugan tries, penalty try. Chad Townsend four goals)


Penrith Panthers 20 (Tim Grant, Nathan Cleary, Waqa Blake tries. Nathan Cleary four goals)

at PointsBet Stadium, Woolooware

Leader man of the match: Andrew Fifita (Sharks)

Sharks next three: Broncos (away), Storm (home), Titans (away)