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The Cronulla Sharks have held on to a slim lead at Remondis Stadium this afternoon, to defeat the Penrith Panthers 24-20.
The Sharks were up against it before the game even started, after losing Jonathan Wright in the warmup through injury. They were buoyed by the return of Beau Ryan and Anthony Tupou from injury, and also by the signing of Andrew Fifita earlier this afternoon.
The Panthers came out strongly, and controlled the tempo of the game throughout much of the first half. Josh Mansour continued his form from previous weeks, crashing over for a try in the 9th minute, to open the account early for the Panthers.
The Sharks hit back through Todd Carney minutes later, however Carney was forced from field after injuring his hamstring in the act of scoring the try.
Penrith looked in control through most of the first half, and it was only a 39th minute try from Ricky Leutele that kept the Sharks in the game at half time, where they trailed 10-12.
But it was a different Sharks side that came out in the second half. Tenacity and guts were two words that would describe the Sharks performance late in the game - their scramble defence particularly indicative of this.
Trailing by four points with only a minute remaining, the Panthers looked to have snatched the game from the Sharks, when it looked like they'd scored a try. Upon video referee inspection, Adam Docker was ruled to have caused an obstruction, so the Sharks held on for the win.
Jeff Robson was impressive, particularly considering he lost his halves partner early in the game, and was the sole kicking option for the Sharks throughout the game. Gordon also ran the ball strongly, and Tupou was also strong in his return.
The Sharks will take on the Eels next week, while the Panthers will take on the Knights on Sunday afternoon.
2 points - Ricky Leutele
1 point - Michael Gordon
Welcome to Remondis Stadium for this clash between the Sharks and the Panthers this afternoon. The Sharks will be buoyed by the re-signing of Andrew Fifita for a further four years this afternoon.
I'm tipping a close, grinding game in this one - the Sharks will be desperate for a win, but the Panthers will definitely not be easy beats.
The Panthers are as named, 1-17. Several changes for the Sharks from the team that was named on Tuesday. Beau Ryan will take the field in his first game for 2014, playing in jersey number 20. Anthony Tupou will also start the game in jersey 18. Chris Heighington drops back to the interchange bench, while Michael Lichaa will also come of the bench in jersey 22 in place of the Isaac De Gois.
1: And we're underway. The Panthers start the game, and the Sharks get first use of the football.
1: A strong run from Vave, and then the Sharks kick to the left of field. Moylan watches the ball dribble over the sideline.
2: The Panthers work the ball to the left of the field. On the last, they kick long and high, with some massive pressure on Gordon. He takes the kick beautifully.
3: Massive run from Idris there, swatting away defenders, and dragging others.
5: The Panthers kick towards Beau Ryan, who cleans it up nicely.
5: Carney kicks high to Moylan - Soward runs a block for him and gets belted.
6: Knock on against the Panthers now - Tim Grant doesn't expect the ball to come down where it does, and he knocks the ball forward. Pressure off the Sharks.
6: Fifita creates some second phase play, getting a nice late offload away.
7: The Sharks send the ball right on the 4th, before kicking across field on the last. Simmons takes the kick and passes back inside to Wallace in open space, but he's easily run down.
8: Dean Whare almost makes a break, trying to get around the outside of his man. The Panthers kick across field, and Beau Ryan can't take the kick. We're going to the video referee for a possible try.
9: TRY PENRITH PANTHERS
Scored by Josh Mansour. Kick to come.
And it's a try. Josh Mansour drags down Beau Ryan's arm, and then swoops on the loose ball, planting it down on the left side of the field.
10: Six again for the Panthers - Ayshford attempts an intercept - he had the ball but couldn't control it. Panthers on attack in the Sharks half of the field.
11: Panthers heavy on attack now on the last. They again kick to the left of the field looking for Mansour. The ball comes down short of the tryline, and Soward puts in a second kick into the in goal. Morris cleans up, and the Panthers will get a repeat set.
13: Panthers are attacking the left side of the field. Idris stands in a tackle and offloads. On the last, Wallace kicks to the right corner, but Feki is up to the task.
14: Sharks doing a lot of defending early in this first half. Brent Kite almost knocks on, but drops the ball down onto his foot and claims a kick.
15: Penalty against the Panthers - the Sharks needed that badly.
16: Going to the video referee again - Todd Carney has claimed a try, but we're just checking on a double movement. Carney doesn't look confident, and seems to have been injured in the act of running for the line.
17: TRY CRONULLA-SUTHERLAND SHARKS
Scored by Todd Carney. Kick to come.
It's a TRY! Carney ran onto a ball from Robson, and rolled over the tryline. As the conversion is being lined up, Carney has left the field, and gone straight up the tunnel with an injury to his leg.
18: UNSUCCESSFUL CONVERSION CRONULLA-SUTHERLAND SHARKS
Conversion attempt by Michael Gordon unsuccessful.
Gordon lines up the conversion attempt, but pushes it just to the right, cleaning up the right upright instead. The Panthers still lead.
20: Moylan makes a massive break now, running down the left side of the field. Mansour takes the next hitup, and draws a penalty for his team.
20: The Panthers are fairly insistent about attacking the Sharks' right side defence.
21: TRY PENRITH PANTHERS
Scored by David Simmons. Kick to come.
And yet it's the right side that scores the Panther's second try. The ball moves swiftly from left to right, going from Wallace to Moylan, the Whare who taps on to his winger, allowing Simmons to sprint to the line and score the try.
22: SUCCESSFUL CONVERSION PENRITH PANTHERS
Conversion attempt by Jamie Soward successful.
Soward lines the kick up from 1 metre in from touch, and sends it just inside the left upright.
23: Injury update, Carney is in the sheds getting his hamstring tended to.
26: Wallace kicks to the right side of the field again, putting massive pressure on Sosaia Feki. He takes the ball, but is almost instantly dragged over the touchline. The Panthers will get the ball back in prime attacking position.
27: Elijah Taylor has also left the field with what looks like a medial ligament strain.
27: Jamal Idris has knocked the ball on - pressure off the Sharks.
29: The Panthers are penalised - Moylan is ruled to have tackled Michael Gordon in mid air. The Sharks kick down field, and will take the tap from their own 30m line.
31: The Panthers attempt an inside-out play, the inside ball to Moylan is a gem, but Moylan drops the ball while attempting to score the try.
32: Gallen looks to be struggling - clutching his shoulder.
32: The Sharks get penalised, and Soward kicks downfield.
36: The Panthers look to tiring in the last few minutes. The Sharks need to get points in this set.
37: Gallen throws a short ball to Heighington. Robson grubbers to the left, and it's cleaned up by Segeyaro, but he has the ball raked a second later. Robson then passes to the left of the field, and the Sharks look to have scored. We're just double checking with the video referee.
38: SUCCESSFUL CONVERSION CRONULLA-SUTHERLAND SHARKS
Conversion attempt by Michael Gordon successful.
Michael Gordon lines up the kick again, to a backdrop of Sharks fans with their shoes on their hands (weirdos). He nails the kick, and the oddballs all put their shoes back on.
40: Half time here in the Shire. The Panthers lead by two points, after looking in control for most of the first half. For the Sharks, Todd Carney has left the field with an injured hamstring. Elijah Taylor has also left the field with a medial ligament strain.
40: Teams are back on the field for the second half.
40: Back underway. The Sharks get a penalty, and are on attack from within the Panthers 30 metres.
41: The Sharks kick high on the last, but it's way too deep and the Panthers field the ball easily in goal.
42: The Panthers send the ball right, Simmons takes the ball and looks to make a break but is wrapped up in a heavy tackle. The Sharks get the ball, miraculously, after Beau Ryan let the kick bounce.
45: The Sharks look to take the play down the left side of the field again, but John Morris throws a forward pass. The Sharks are really struggling with their last tackle options so far in this half.
47: Sharks throwing a lot of offloads, but they aren't making a lot of ground. They kick high on the last, but Idris runs a block, and Beau Ryan can't get a hand to the ball.
50: The Panthers run the ball off a scrum, but throw a forward pass that floats over the sideline. The Sharks get a scrum feed 10 metres out from their own line.
52: Segeyaro makes a massive break down the right side of the field, before coming back in field. Soward is trapped with the ball on the third, before Idris runs across field on the fourth. It looked like an obstruction play from Idris, but the referees don't say anything. Wallace kicks high on the last, but the Sharks take the ball from within their own in goal.
53: 20 metre tap, and the Sharks run the ball down field, before gaining a penalty. Some brilliant scramble defence from the Sharks, and they now line up a penalty kick to even up the game.
54: SUCCESSFUL PENALTY GOAL CRONULLA-SUTHERLAND SHARKS
Penalty goal attempt by Michael Gordon successful.
Gordon lines the kick up from just left of the uprights, and 35 metres out. The flags are up, and we're all locked up at 12 all.
56: From the kickoff, Andrew Fifita crashes the ball back into the defence. He then plays the ball with the top of his boot, and is penalised.
56: Wade Graham looks to be injured now - he's on the ground with what looks like a hip problem.
57: Segeyaro tries to split the defence again, he's causing some big problems for some of the Sharks tired defenders.
57: And now Michael Gordon has dropped to the ground. The trainer is testing the stability of his already strapped left knee.
60: The Panthers look to test out the Sharks right side defence this time, before sending the ball back to the left on the fourth. Peachey steps one, two, three men, before being dragged down in a desperate tackle.
61: Wallace kicks to the left of the field for Josh Mansour, who takes the ball and slams it down over the tryline. We're going to the video referee to check if there was a knock on at dummy half.
62: It's a NO TRY - Docker puts his foot onto the ball after playing the ball, and forces a knock on at dummy half. Josh Mansour isn't happy, and also looks to have picked up a shoulder injury during the play.
62: Fifita gets a penalty for his team, and is looking plenty fired up at his opposite number, Tim Grant.
62: Double knock on now, against the Sharks first. The Panthers will get a scrum feed from their own 20 metre line. The Sharks completion rate in this game is abysmal, and of the sets that they have completed, probably 25% of them have been ineffective last tackle options.
63: The battle between Fifita and Grant continues - on this occasion the Sharks are penalised as Fifita takes way too long to get off the tackle. Soward will line up a penalty kick from right in front to take the lead.
64: SUCCESSFUL PENALTY GOAL PENRITH PANTHERS
Penalty goal attempt by Jamie Soward successful.
And it's successful. The Panthers take the lead.
66: The Panthers looking to extend their lead now - Segeyaro probes around from dummy half, but can't find a gap.
67: On the last, the Panthers kick to the right sideline - Simmons comes down with the ball, but his foot just touches out of the field of play before he can flick the ball back in field. The Panthers are screaming for the referee to have a look at it, but he doesn't want a bar of it.
68: And now, in the very next set, the Sharks look to have scored! Gordon chased through a high Robson kick, and out-leapt Moylan to take the ball. We're checking the offside, but it looks like a try!
69: TRY CRONULLA-SUTHERLAND SHARKS
Scored by Michael Gordon. Kick to come.
And the try is awarded! Beautifully timed chase from Gordon, who snatches the ball before Moylan could even get a hand to it. The Sharks hit back and take the lead!
70: SUCCESSFUL CONVERSION CRONULLA-SUTHERLAND SHARKS
Conversion attempt by Michael Gordon successful.
And Gordon converts his own try - the Sharks lead by 4.
73: Robson kicks high on the last, Beau Ryan takes the ball, but can't get a pass away back in field before being bundled into touch.
74: TRY PENRITH PANTHERS
Scored by Peter Wallace. Kick to come.
Whare makes a break downfield - he slices the defence up, before passing back inside for Wallace. Wallace sprints the last 20 metres and plants the ball down for a try!
75: SUCCESSFUL CONVERSION PENRITH PANTHERS
Conversion attempt by Jamie Soward successful.
Soward lines up just to the side of the posts, and the Panthers take the lead back.
77: The Panthers kick low downfield, and the ball ricochets off a Sharks player and goes over the sideline. The Sharks get the scrum feed.
77: Amazing stuff from the Sharks there! We're going to the video referee, but Robson looks to have scored! It was some quick hands and great catching that led to the opportunity.
77: TRY CRONULLA-SUTHERLAND SHARKS
Scored by Jeff Robson. Kick to come.
And the see-saw swings back in the Sharks direction - the video referee gives the try to Robson, and the Sharks lead by two.
77: SUCCESSFUL CONVERSION CRONULLA-SUTHERLAND SHARKS
Conversion attempt by Michael Gordon successful.
Gordon adds the extras, and the lead is now four.
78: A short kick off from the Panthers, and the Sharks lose the ball. The Panthers will get another attacking opportunity in good field position.
78: The Panthers have numbers out to the left, but a great tackle from Robson shuts down the play.
79: We're going to the video referee again - this time for a possible Panthers try!. We have a possible obstruction - it looks like Adam Docker has stopped in the defensive line, taking Graham out of the play.
79: And it's NO TRY! The Sharks maintain the lead with only 59 seconds remaining!
79: The Sharks will just be wanting to control the ball for the next minute - they can't afford anything silly.
79: With only ten seconds left, Gallen has a headclash with Nigel Plum, and has a lot of blood coming from a head wound.
80: And that's the game! The Sharks hold on (just) to win the game. It was a gutsy performance, after the Sharks lost Carney early in the game, leaving Robson as the only playmaker. They'll be stoked with that win.