Sharks nil Newcastle to send out another statement to top four contenders

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Cronulla have underlined their top four credentials with a gritty, defensively-perfect 18-0 win over the Newcastle Knights at PointsBet Stadium.

Coaches often speak of having pride in their defensive line, and that was on full display for all 80 minutes with the Sharks.

They missed just 14 tackles all night and denied their opponents any meaningful scoring chances.

The tries that came at the other end were all off the back of a performance without the ball that will have impressed Craig Fitzgibbon no end.

Siosifa Talakai, in particular, was outstanding. Playing in an unfamiliar centre role, he bossed Dane Gagai, arguably the form player in the position in the comp.

The final try, in which he bounced Gagai to create space from which Will Kennedy was able to score, was emblematic of the physicality – and some unheralded finesse – that he brought to bear on the Knights’ defence.

The stats were barely believable: 228 running metres and 16 breaks on his own, as well a try and an assist.

Braden Hamlin-Uele was also mightily impressive, battering into tackles and leaving a mark. Leo Thompson, the Knights four-game rookie, was often the recipient: to his credit, he kept running back hard for more punishment.

This wasn’t a notably poor showing from Adam O’Brien’s Knights. They struggled a little with ball in hand, though against this Sharks defence, most teams would, but defensively they were also strong and could take a lot of heart from how they withstood an early second half onslaught from the Sharkies.

After playing 50 minutes with 12 last week – and ten more tonight after a sin bin for Dom Young – it was maybe a game too far for the Knights, who looked more leggy than their opponents.

Last night, Titans coach Justin Holbrook had complained about the difficult conditions as a reasoning for his side’s poor performance, blaming the dew for their errors.

With the wind howling into the faces of the Sharks, they showed how to play the conditions as they found them: Cronulla kicked cleverly, completed high, ran hard and tackled everything that moved.

Aiden Tolman, playing game 300 in the NRL, had managed just 15 tries all in prior to tonight but managed to open the scoring with a crash over from close range.

Sione Katoa had been denied earlier in the half when kicking for himself, but as the clock elapsed on the first half, he got his score.

It was a late shift to Will Kennedy, then to Jesse Ramien, and though the centre might have scored himself, he found the winger to make sure with an acrobatic finish at the corner.

The 8-0 that the Sharks took to the break – having played against the wind – was worth far more.

Newcastle failed to deal with the wind anywhere near as well. While they were manful in defence, in attack they repeatedly struggled to make ground and get their strike players – notably Kalyn Ponga – into the game.

The first half of the second half was a case in point. Now facing the wind, the Knights could barely get out of their own end, with kicking a particular difficulty.

That task was made yet harder by a sin-binning for Dom Young, who was adjudged to have put Ronaldo Mulitalo in a dangerous position in a lifting tackle.

The Sharks made tow key breakthroughs last week while the Dragons were a man light, and they iced the game with the advantage this time around.

Siosifa Talakai – best on ground and denied a score in the first half – got his deserved try before, with Young back on the field, creating the last for Will Kennedy.

Blayke Brayley was binned too, late on, for a professional foul – but too late for one last attack. The Sharks 0 was intact.

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