Cronulla was too strong for an undermanned Vodafone Warriors side as it triumphed 28-4 in Sunday’s third-round NRL match at Sharks Stadium in Sydney.
Playing in soaring temperatures, the Vodafone Warriors were without two players from the side originally selected, experienced front rower Sam Rapira out with a hand injury and winger Glen Fisiiahi at home with his family following his sister’s death.
With Rapira joining fellow front rowers Russell Packer, Sione Lousi, Sam Lousi and Charlie Gubb on the injured list, the propping resources were further depleted when Steve Rapira’s match was ended after only a few minutes. He was forced off with an ugly ear wound which will require plastic surgery to repair.
It also meant Vodafone Warriors head coach Matthew Elliott had to throw Jacob Lillyman into the fray much earlier than planned.
Despite diminished resources there was reason for optimism when halfback Shaun Johnson reeled off not just one but two 40/20s within a few minutes, giving him three for the season after his career-first 40/20 at Eden Park last weekend.
But it was the Sharks who would set the tone in trying conditions they appeared to find easier to cope with than the Vodafone Warriors.
Soon enough they were 6-0 ahead via a ninth-minute John Morris try and Michael Gordon’s conversion. They had much going for them from then on yet, despite more possession and a favourable 4-1 penalty count, they remained just six points in front with halftime not too far away.
It didn’t last with the Sharks organising further tries to fullback Gordon and winger Beau Ryan in the last six minutes of the half to take an 18-0 advantage into a break from a furnace-like conditions.
By halftime Lillyman had already made 20 tackles with Cronulla in the ascendancy in all key areas.
The second half mission was to stem the flow of points but as early as the 45th minute the Sharks were in for their fourth try, Sam Tagataese scoring from long range up the middle of the park. Gordon’s conversion made in 24-0 with the omens not looking too good.
However, for the best part of 30 minutes the Vodafone Warriors dug in and kept turning Cronulla away (with the video referee also helping on occasion).
Interchange dummy half Pita Godinet sneaked across, too, but had a would-be try rubbed out when the video officials found he had lost control right on the line.
It wasn’t until the 71st minute that Cronulla scored again and then, with the score reading 28-0, the Vodafone Warriors had their only try-scoring joy as centre Konrad Hurrell crossed for his first touchdown of the season wide out.
Lillyman (43 tackles) and loose forward Todd Lowrie (40) had heavy workloads on defence. Debutant winger Ngani Laumape (19) had plenty of work with the ball, making 111 metres from 13 runs.
The injury toll continues to mount, the list now reading Sam and Steve Rapira, Russell Packer, Charlie Gubb, Sione and Sam Lousi, Manu Vatuvei, Nathan Friend, Jerome Ropati, Harry Siejka, Carlos Tuimavave and Alehana Mara.
The Vodafone Warriors arrive back in Auckland tomorrow afternoon facing nine days before their next match against North Queensland on Easter Monday (April 1).
The match, kicking off at 6.00pm, is their first of the season at Mount Smart Stadium, part of a triple header starting with the Auckland Vulcans taking on the Windsor Wolves in the New South Wales Cup (1.35pm), the Vodafone Junior Warriors meeting the young Cowboys in the NYC (3.45pm) and the NRL sides facing off in the third match of the day.
At Sharks Stadium, Cronulla
Cronulla Sharks 28 (John Morris, Michael Gordon, Beau Ryan, Sam Tagataese, Jeff Robson tries; Michael Gordon 4 conversions).
Vodafone Junior Warriors 4 (Konrad Hurrell try).
Referees: Adam Devcich and Henry Perenara.
Vodafone Warriors: Kevin Locke; Ngani Laumape, Konrad Hurrell, Dane Nielsen, Bill Tupou; Thomas Leuluai, Shaun Johnson; Steve Rapira, Elijah Taylor, Ben Matulino; Ben Henry, Simon Mannering (c); Todd Lowrie. Interchange: Jacob Lillyman, Feleti Mateo, Sebastine Ikahihifo, Pita Godinet.
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