The Wests Tigers NSW Cup side were brave in defeat but ultimately outmatched by the Cronulla Sharks at Remondis Stadium as they lost their trial match 18-14.
A strong Sharks’ squad featuring the likes of Nathan Gardner, Ricky Leutele and David Fifita weathered an early attacking storm from the visitors before scoring key tries either side of half-time to give them a four-point win in the end.
After the first repeat set of the match for a penalty late in the tackle count, it was the Wests Tigers who got on the board first. Setefano Taukafa scored on the right wing after a sweeping back-line move and final pass from fullback Kurtis Rowe, but Corey Brown could not make the conversion and the score remained 4-0.
A closely fought match continued after that as both teams tried to gain the upper hand.
Cronulla hit back through winger Valentine Holmes when he crossed out wide on the left wing. Jaden Clarke’s conversion was good to give the hosts their first lead of the match.
Nathan Gardner threatened to put the Sharks in again soon after when he broke free up the middle, but a solid cover tackle from Rowe ended the half-chance.
After successfully winning a repeat set close to the end of the first half, Wests Tigers almost took the lead again when they swept from left to right. The final pass from Waters, however, hit the deck and the Sharks swooped to end the attack.
Despite a late raid just before half time, the score remained 6-4 to Cronulla at the break.
Cronulla scored soon after the half-time interval to stretch their lead to eight points after capitalizing on an error from the Wests Tigers. A loose pass inside their own 10 was kicked through by David Fifita — brother of Australian international Andrew Fifita — who then fell on the ball over the line to score right next to the posts.
The conversion was duly slotted and the Sharks led 12-4.
Jaden Clarke extended the hosts’ lead to two tries when he dived over soon after in the 40th minute. Young hooker Michael Lichaa danced his way through two tackles close to the line before offloading to Clarke, who scored close to the right upright.
The youngster converted his own try to extend Cronulla’s lead to 18-4.
Frustrations were clearly evident when players from both clubs came together in the middle of the field in the ensuing set. Both captains were given a stern talking to but no players were placed on report as the Wests Tigers won a penalty.
They could not make it count, though — knocking on inside the Sharks’ 10 shortly after.
Winger Allan McGrath crossed 10 minutes’ from time after a sweeping back-line move involving Jy Hitchcox and Rowe to give some hope to the visitors.
Corey Brown nailed the conversion from the sideline to reduce the Sharks’ lead to 18-10.
Wests Tigers nearly extended the comeback further when Nathan Waters flung out a hand at an intercept attempt on halfway. He couldn’t reel it in, though, and the chance went begging as the Sharks worked their way down field with possession.
Rowe ignited the travelling fans with a scintillating run down the left wing as time expired — picking up Brown’s offload before turning the fullback inside out to score close to the posts.
Brown couldn’t nail the conversion, though, and after a knock-on early in the tackle count trying to pull off an unlikely comeback, the Sharks held on for a close 18-14 victory.