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The Cronulla Sharks have gotten their Premiership defence back on track after surviving an error riddled match to oust the Parramatta Eels 20-6 in front of 17003 fans at ANZ Stadium tonight.
Playing for the Johnny Mannah Cup, both teams and patrons at the ground paused for a round of applause pre-match in honour of the late club man of both sides whose life was tragically cut short at the hands of Hodgkin's Lymphoma in early 2013.
After a tough feeling out period, it was the visitors who posted first points when Andrew Fifita got his big right arm free 30 metres out from the Eels line to send Wade Graham into the clear who summed up the situation quickly to draw and pass for rookie rake Jayden Brailey to score untouched in the 11th minute. Five-eight James Maloney converted the try to give the Sharks the early 6-0 lead.
With some poor discipline and errors creeping into the contest for the next 20 minute period, it was again Graham who turned the tide for his team diving on a loose ball from An Eels mistake. From the ensuing set of six the Sharks Captain in waiting ran a tough line into the teeth of the Eels defence before getting his arm free to pop an offload up for Ricky Leutele. The centre sucked in the Eels cover defenders before turning the ball inside for his winger Sosaia Feki who darted for the line to score. With Maloney again converting, the Sharks had a commanding 12-0 lead heading into the final 10 minutes of the opening half.
With the Sharks goal-line defence frustrating the Eels attack into countless errors, the home team looked long odds to cross the stripe until interchange forward David Gower scooped up a grubber kick from half Corey Norman in the last minute of the half to score and get his team back into the contest. Five-eight Clinton Gutherson converted to reduce the deficit to six heading into the sheds.
An early penalty goal in the second half to Maloney gave the Sharks a handy eight point buffer that seemed to strike a psychological blow on their opponents. Errors again crept in and more ill-discipline from the Eels proved the telling blow when back to back penalties gave the Sharks an easy leg-up down field putting them in an attacking position.
The visitors wasted little time taking their advantage when Maloney laid on a short ball for Skipper Paul Gallen who charged into the line before forcing an offload free for Maloney to back up and plant the ball down next to the posts. He converted his own try to give his team the eventual 20-6 full-time score line.
Coaches' Brad Arthur and Shane Flanagan will be far from pleased coming out of the contest with both teams showing poor ball control resulting in a total of 30 unforced errors in the 80 minutes.
Next week, the Eels will travel to the Nation's Capital for a tough match against the Canberra Raiders at GIO Stadium on Saturday, whilst the Sharks will be looking for their first home win of the year when they host the Newcastle Knights also on Saturday.