An improved second half from Wests Tigers was not enough to claw back the Cronulla Sharks in tonight’s final trial match, with the visitors running out 24-12 winners in front of strong and vocal crowd at Campbelltown Sports Stadium.
Trailing 20-0 at the break and struggling to find cohesion in attack, Wests Tigers showed great improvement in the second half with fullback Corey Thompson again a standout for the home side.
Entering into their second trial match of the pre-season, Wests Tigers had high hopes of making it two wins in a row against the Sharks but unfortunately couldn’t quite grasp a win tonight.
Both teams have gained many new recruits for the 2018 season and showcased a number of different combinations throughout the game; Ben Matulino and Russell Packer combined strongly for Wests Tigers while Chad Townsend and Matt Moylan showed plenty of promise together for the visitors.
It didn’t take long for the Sharks to bust through the defensive line with Ricky Leutele scoring his first try of the game in the third minute, successfully converted by Chad Townsend.
Ben Matulino (who returned in the 27th minute) and Matt Eisenhuth were sent from the field for the concussion test after a head clash down the western end of the field.
A charge down from Luke Lewis in the 17th minute saw a fight for the ball close to the line, but Thompson showed great determination and speed — earning his team another attacking set.
Back to back penalties followed, advancing the Wests Tigers up the field to put some much needed pressure on the Sharks, but unfortunately it didn’t lead to any points on the board.
As the game entered the second quarter, Valentine Holmes gained the visiting side four more points on the board after his try in the 22nd minute, with Townsend making it 12-0.
With just over seven minutes remaining, a short kick from Wade Graham saw Sosaia Feki over the line, widening the margin to 16-0 in favour of the visitors before a controversial penalty right on half-time gave the Sharks on final attack and extend their lead at the break to 20-0 through Holmes.
Two consecutive drop outs early in the second half saw Corey Thompson over the line, but the try was disallowed by officials — putting a downer on the advantage given in the previous sets.
In the 52nd minute, Wests Tigers were finally over the line with Thompson scoring his first for the night thanks to a nice cross field kick from Luke Brooks off his wrong foot.
Tanne Milne shortly after made it 20-6.
With just over 20 minutes remaining, a strong tackle made by Ben Matulino forced Matt Prior to drop the ball and gave the Wests Tigers an attacking chance with a scrum feed.
That led to Pita Godinet scored his first try in Wests Tigers colours, diving from dummy half and getting himself over the line. Esan Masters successfully converted, bringing the score to 20-12.
Thompson continued his strong performance with a brilliant run inside the final 10 minutes; collecting the ball just inches from the dead-ball line before breaking open the Sharks defence with a run that took him all the way to halfway and left a slew of defenders in his wake. He was replaced by Tuimoala Lolohea for the final five minutes of the match — a position Ivan Cleary will no doubt give plenty of consideration over the next two weeks as anticipation for the Round 1 team list heats up.
Cronulla deservingly finished with the final try of the match as a sharp shift to the right saw youngster Sione Katoa dive over in the corner and give the visitors a 24-12 victory in the end.
Cronulla Sharks 24 (Holmes 2, Feki, Leutele, Katoa tries; Townsend 3/5 goals) def. Wests Tigers 12 (Thompson, Godinet tries; Milne 1/1, Marsters 1/1 goals) at Campbelltown Sports Stadium