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The Newtown Jets made one of their best starts to the NSW Cup competition in several years when they defeated a well-credentialled Cronulla Sharks team 26-18 at Toyota Stadium last Sunday.
The Jets flew out of the blocks with an early try to fullback Rhys Pritchard and they added two more tries to go in at half-time with a 16-6 lead. Newtown had to withstand a strong fight-back by the Sharks late in the second half when the Jets held a precarious 22-18 lead with ten minutes left to play. The match was played in hot and humid conditions that seemed likely to impact upon both teams' stamina as the game progressed.
The Jets had introduced two new players into their starting line-up, halfback Mark Kheirallah and front-rower Daniel Conn, while the Sharks fielded a formidable-looking team list boosted by several players with considerable first grade experience from both the Cronulla-Sutherland and Melbourne Storm NRL squads.
This opening round fixture was the first time that this Sharks-Storm coalition squad had played together and no doubt the team's cohesion and teamwork will improve in the upcoming competition rounds. The Jets certainly seem to have more speed at their disposal this season and top coaches of the past and present have all agreed that speed is one factor that is very difficult to combat in Rugby League.
Halfback Mark Kheirallah made an impressive debut with the Jets, being involved in three of Newtown's tries, showing admirable initiative to score one himself, as well as tormenting the Cronulla defence with a series of well-executed chip-kick and recover efforts. Centre Francis Vaiotu scored two tries and showcased the explosive running style that made him stand out in the recent trial games.
Other Newtown players to impress last Sunday were front-rower and captain Khalid Deeb who worked hard in the oppressive heat and led his forwards in a strong defensive display. Daniel Conn and last year's best and fairest award winner Tinirau Arona made ground with their determined running and both hookers, Kurt Kara and Byron Fruean, worried the Sharks' midfield defence with their bursts from dummy-half.
Jets coach Greg Matterson rated this as a good team effort but said he intended to address the team's lapses that let the Sharks back into the contest late in the second half. Newtown achieved a high completion rate in the last thirty minutes despite the fatigue factor normally associated with playing in humid weather.
The Newtown Jets travel away next weekend for what is always one of their toughest NSW Cup assignments - taking on their long-time rivals the Western Suburbs Magpies at Campbelltown Stadium next Saturday, 19th March, at 3.00pm.