Warriors hold off late Sharks attack

By David Skipwith

Manu Vatuvei is brought down in a tackle against the Sharks. Photo / Getty Images
Manu Vatuvei is brought down in a tackle against the Sharks. Photo / Getty Images

Warriors 16
Sharks 12

The Warriors scraped home with a tense and scrappy win over an understrength Cronulla Sharks outfit in front of 13,939 fans at Mt Smart Stadium today.

A dominant first half saw the home side register three tries with Ngani Laumape scoring a double and Manu Vatuvei also touching down, and Chad Townsend kicked two goals, while the Sharks managed a lone four-pointer to Tinirau Arona to trail 16-6 at half-time.

The Warriors were unable to add to their tally after the break, with basic errors and poor execution letting them down, while the Sharks produced a terrific defensive effort and narrowed the margin to four when Sosaia Feki scored to set up a nail-biting final quarter.

Injuries and fatigue contributed to the Warriors second-half fade, with rookie winger Tuimoala Lolohea (hamstring) and centre Dane Nielsen (concussion) both exiting, to leave captain Simon Mannering and fellow back-rower Sione Lousi to fill the breach in the midfield.

Cronulla had their chances to win the match, most notably when Pat Politini ignored an unmarked Michael Gordon with six minutes remaining, but the Warriors did enough to hang on and claim their first win over the Sharks since 2011.

The result moves them up into sixth on the NRL ladder, amongst a logjam of six teams locked together on 26 points, behind both the Cowboys and Roosters and above the Storm, Bulldogs and ninth-placed Eels.

Coach Andrew McFadden did not shy away from his side's patchy performance but credited their tenacity to tough it out for a vital win.

"It was a pretty scrappy win but two points is two points at this time of year and we needed to win and although it was a scrappy win we'll take it," he said.

"We were excellent there in the first half, our kicking game was outstanding, we put a lot of pressure on the opposition and we scored points off the back of that. The second-half, it was only small things but we just didn't give ourselves an opportunity to compete."

The Sharks were already missing a host of big names and lost talismanic skipper Paul Gallen to a virus on the morning of the match. Wearing black armbands as a tribute to the late Alexander D'Aleo, a 23-year-old Sutherland Shire local tragically killed in Croatia last week, they put those set-backs aside to repel a fierce opening onslaught from the Warriors.

Effective set completions from both Townsend - also sporting a wristband paying homage to D'Aleo - and Sam Tomkins saw the hosts put together five consecutive sets before Laumape crossed out wide after six minutes. The Sharks fought their way downfield where Arona managed to ground a bouncing ball ingoal, but two more repeat sets from the Warriors allowed Laumape to run in his second. After enjoying 66 per cent of the ball and a five-one penalty count, it was no surprise when Manu Vatuvei extended their lead with a try out on the left wing.

An ugly lifting tackle from Sharks prop Sam Tagataese forced Nielsen from the park early in the second-half, and the Warriors confidence took a knock as lethargy and disorganisation crept in.

Jeff Robson's pinpoint cross-field kick found a leaping Feki for the Sharks second try but that was as close as they got.

"They're a team that push you all the way and they did that tonight," Mannering said.

"They scrambled really well and I thought a couple of times there they made clean breaks and our chase back was pretty good. Sammy did a great job at the back. With a couple of big plays there and guys working hard we got the two points. Pretty ugly but it still counts."

Warriors 16 (Ngani Laumape 2, Manu Vatuvei tries; Chad Townsend 2 from 4 goals)
Sharks 12 (Tinirau Arona, Sosaia Feki tries; Michael Gordon 2 goals)

- NZ Herald

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