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It's been a great day for the Sharks at the foot of the mountains, but it wasn't all easy as they buried the Panthers 24-22 at CUA Stadium this afternoon in front of 10,543 of the Penrith faithful.
The Panthers opened strongly and scored first but Cronulla engineered a massive turnaround, LeagueUnlimited.com Man of the Match Luke Covell scoring the first of his three tries to kick-start that. Speaking of kicking, Luke Covell's usually accurate boot was pushing it wide more often than not, missing four attempts.
Cronulla continued the turnaround, scoring four tries before the halftime break in total, just Covell's dud radar keeping Penrith within reach at 18-6. The second half was a far more convincing display for the home side, and despite a few contentious calls they managed to cross the line and bring themselves within eight points. A converted try with around fifteen remaining re-established Cronulla's strong lead and by the 75th minute the result looked clear - until two late tries from Penrith put a scare through the Sharks' ranks. Trent Waterhouse and Shane Rodney both planted the ball over the line in the final five, and save for an error on the siren from Luke Rooney, they may have even cruised home to victory.
Penrith will go into Friday Night Football against heavyweights the Roosters ruing what might have been, while Cronulla will be fancying their chances against the hapless Warriors at Toyota Stadium next Saturday - both matches could be season defining.
Penrith Panthers 22
Tries: Michael Jennings, Jarrod Sammut, Trent Waterhouse, Shane Rodney
Goals: Jarrod Sammut (3/4)
Cronulla Sharks 24
Tries: Luke Covell (3), Ben Pomeroy, Brett Seymour
Goals: Luke Covell (2/6)
LeagueUnlimited.com Player of the Match
3 Points: Luke Covell (Sharks) 2 Points: Brett Kimmorley (Sharks) 1 Point: Maurice Blair (Panthers)
LeagueUnlimited.com Live Commentary
CUA Stadium will host this clash this afternoon, two teams that are certainly in the mix but will need a win to keep pace with the front-runners.
The teams as announced earlier in the week: PANTHERS: 1. Rhys Wesser 2. Jarrod Sammut 3. Michael Jennings 4. Brad Tighe 5. Luke Rooney 6. Maurice Blair 7. Luke Lewis 8. Matthew Bell 9. Luke Priddis 10. Tony Puletua 11. Frank Pritchard 12. Trent Waterhouse 13. Nathan Smith Interchange: 14. Paul Aiton 15. Sam McKendry 16. Shane Rodney 17. Josh Bateman
SHARKS: 1. Mitch Brown 2. Misi Taulapapa 3. Ben Pomeroy 4. David Simmons 5. Luke Covell 6. Brett Seymour 7. Brett Kimmorley 8. Adam Peek 9. Isaac De Gois 10. Ben Ross 11. Fraser Anderson 12. Luke Douglas 13. Jayson Bukuya Interchange: 14. Danny Nutley 15. Kade Snowden 16. Grant Millington 17. Terence Seu Seu 18. Bryan Norrie
There are a few reshuffles to the lineups - Penrith have relegated Bell and Pritchard to the bench with Sam McKendry and Shane Rodney to start in the forward pack. A bigger change for Cronulla, Karl Filiga and Blake Green will come into the lineup, replacing Millington and Bukuya, and Ben Pomeroy moving to lock.
First half Kickoff: We're underway!
3 min: VIDEO REFEREE for possible Penrith try to Michael Jennings. Decision pending... TRY!
4 min: TRY Penrith Panthers A dominant start from Penrith sees them with an early set on the Sharks line, a lovely kick through from Maurice Blair gives Michael Jennings the first points of the day. Conversion attempt by Jarrod Sammut successful. Penrith Panthers 6-0
6 min: Cronulla having a good attacking chance but a very basic error from Adam Peek in the front row sees the ball hit the deck and Penrith out of trouble. Cronulla looking all over the place.
8 min: Possession in Penrith's favour and they're on the attack now - but a loose ball again costing the attacking side. Hint of a strip in that one but no review of that decision, Cronulla to work it away from their own line.
13 min: Great kicking game from Penrith's Maurice Blair so far, really forcing the Cronulla backs to work the back.
14 min: TRY Cronulla Sharks A great attacking try for Cronulla and Luke Covell wins the footrace from a Seymour kick and the Sharks open their account. Conversion attempt by Luke Covell unsuccessful. Penrith Panthers 6-4
19 min: Penrith get another attacking chance but some good defence from Luke Covell stops the onslaught in it's tracks, which the Panthers then compound with a penalty.
20 min: TRY Cronulla Sharks Too easy for Cronulla, carving them up the middle and Ben Pomeroy scoring his fourth try of the season - Kimmorley directing a much more attacking Sharks outfit today and it shows. Conversion attempt by Luke Covell successful. Cronulla Sharks 10-6
29 min: TRY Cronulla Sharks Brett Seymour crosses for the Cronulla side and they've completely turned around the early Penrith momentum. Conversion attempt by Luke Covell unsuccessful. Cronulla Sharks 14-6
35 min: Penrith finally with a decent attacking chance on the Cronulla line... and we'll go upstairs for a possible Penrith try. VIDEO REFEREE - NO TRY, obstruction penalty against Penrith after Nathan Smith pushes Kimmorley in the back.
37 min: Isaac De Gois has given the Panthers a colossal chance before halftime, conceding a penalty for throwing the ball away after an error - but Penrith can't hold it and now Cronulla will reclaim possession!
39 min: TRY Cronulla Sharks Covell scores and the overlap was incredible - Penrith's defence down Tighe & Sammut's side of the field is terrible and it's only Luke Covell's 1/4 effort with the boot keep Penrith in the game so far. Conversion attempt by Luke Covell unsuccessful. Cronulla Sharks 18-6
HALFTIME Cronulla Sharks 18 Penrith Panthers 6 Penrith opened well here with the opening try at CUA, but Cronulla turned it around quickly, having scored four unanswered tries in the first half since that point, culminating in the easy-as-you-like effort for Covell in the final minute of the half. Cronulla look to be in the box seat, but Penrith can't be counted out - stay tuned.
This just in - we can report that Darren Lockyer is OUT of State of Origin II. Click on the News link at the top of this page for the latest.
Second half coming up soon, stay tuned.
Second half kickoff: We're back underway at CUA
45 min: Penrith have come out with a lot more zest in attack in this second half but are yet to cross the line - but they are looking lazy in defence.
50 min: Penrith victim of some ordinary decisions in the last ten minutes, Maxwell is sure to be in the spotlight after this game, a couple of drop balls being called incorrectly by the referee and Cronulla gaining some advantage from it.
55 min: Penrith looking like they're building toward something here...
57 min: TRY Penrith Panthers The Panthers finally get across the line with some great attacking football, Sammut crosses but can't make it a six pointer. Conversion attempt by Jarrod Sammut unsuccessful. Cronulla Sharks 18-10
59 min: Penrith are on fire! All the way up field but this time they don't cross the line, Mitch Brown effecting a try-saver on the Panthers and Cronulla will return serve now.
60 min: Penrith seemingly dudded again - a line-ball forward pass call costing them possession now.
62 min: ATTEMPTED PENALTY GOAL Cronulla Sharks Luke Covell misses an penalty goal but Cronulla will retain possession from the 20m line-dropout. Cronulla Sharks 18-10
65 min: TRY Cronulla Sharks He's been ordinary with the boot but he's managed a hat-trick, Covell is in again after the Panthers backs mis-timed the jump on a bomb - and it would seem Cronulla are home. Conversion attempt by Luke Covell successful. Cronulla Sharks 24-10
72 min: Cronulla just looking to slow things down for the moment with victory seemingly just out of reach for the home side. Great kicking games from Kimmorley and Seymour today have really guided the visitors towards the two points.
77 min: TRY Penrith Panthers A consolation effort for the Panthers who'll finish just eight points adrift today but Cronulla stamped their mark much earlier and short of a freak effort from either side we're likely to go to fulltime with 24-16 as the final score. Conversion attempt by Jarrod Sammut successful. Cronulla Sharks 24-16
79 min: TRY Penrith Panthers A massive late run from Penrith and Shane Rodney is over in his first game of the year, one minute to go... it's on! Conversion attempt by Jarrod Sammut successful. Cronulla Sharks 24-22
80 min: A last flurry from the Panthers sees Rooney drop it with the line begging in a great piece of play - Cronulla get out of gaol and move to an equal share of the competition lead with victory today.
FULLTIME Cronulla Sharks 24 Penrith Panthers 22