Slow start costs sleepy Cronulla Sharks in 22-20 loss to Canberra Raiders

A sleepy start has ultimately cost Cronulla as the Sharks slipped to a 22-20 defeat to the Raiders in Canberra on Thursday night.

Cronulla were looking to make it three wins in a row for the first time this season having won their last six matches straight at GIO Stadium.

Shaun Johnson returned from injury for the Sharks at five-eighth, with in-form young gun Kyle Flanagan unlucky to lose his spot. While Blayke Brailey started at hooker in place of older brother Jayden, who was missing with a knee problem.

Wearing a blacked out "Kokoda" strip as part of Cronulla's support of the Kokoda Track Foundation, the Sharks suffered a dismal start to the contest.

Cronulla trailed 20-0 after just 24 minutes as the Raiders ran in tries to Aidan Sezer, Bailey Simonsson and Jarrod Croker.

There was no way to sugar-coat it - the Sharks were awful in the opening quarter. Coach John Morris had wanted his side to kick their habit of slow starts but they returned again in Canberra.

Cronulla completed just two of five sets in possession in the first 20 minutes. They were forced to make more than three times the number of tackles made by Canberra. They gave up four errors, four penalties and had Andrew Fifita placed on report for a crusher tackle.

To make matters worse, the Sharks then also lost Bronson Xerri to injury

Things could only get better for the Sharks and credit to them, as is often Cronulla's trademark, they refused to quit.

The Sharks finally got themselves on the board after half an hour. Chad Townsend drifted across field and gambled on an early third tackle kick close to Canberra's line. The halfback's pin-point effort sat up perfectly for Josh Dugan to score out wide.

Cronulla were in again five minutes later. This time a shift to the left saw Wade Graham flop an offload onto the ground, with Josh Morris scooping up the loose ball before doing brilliantly to find his way to the try line to see the Sharks trail 20-8 at half-time.

Just four minutes into the second half and Cronulla had reduced the deficit to six points thanks to Braden Hamlin-Uele's strong effort.

And the Sharks were on level terms 12 minutes later. Johnson and Townsend combined on the right side to send Dugan in for his second try.

Cronulla had outscored the hosts four tries to three but found themselves behind again thanks to a Croker penalty goal with 17 minutes to go which reestablished the Raiders' lead.

Cronulla continued to push for a match-winning try but it failed to materialise, with the Raiders hanging on to climb into the NRL's top three.

Cronulla remain sixth but could slip to seventh if Manly manage to beat St George Illawarra by more than 14 points at Brookvale Oval on Sunday.

The Sharks have next weekend off as representative rugby league takes centre stage including State of Origin II in Perth.

Cronulla return to action in round 15, travelling to ANZ Stadium to face struggling Canterbury on Sunday, June 30.

Leader Scoreboard

Canberra Raiders 22 (Aidan Sezer, Bailey Simonsson, Jarrod Croker tries. Jarrod Croker five goals)

defeated

Cronulla Sharks 20 (Josh Dugan two, Josh Morris, Braden Hamlin-Uele tries. Shaun Johnson two goals)

at GIO Stadium, Canberra

Crowd: 10,021

Sharks' next three: Bulldogs (away), Broncos (home), Storm (away)

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