Two days before Laurie Daley names his NSW side for the State of Origin decider, Todd Carney gave the Blues coach a reminder of his talents with a starring role as Cronulla held out a fast-finishing Wests Tigers 36-22 on Friday night.
Carney was dumped by Daley after playing in all three games of last year's series in favour of James Maloney but he produced the kind of kicking performance that was sorely lacking in NSW's 26-6 defeat by Queensland in game two.
The Sharks looked well set for an emphatic victory at their newly-named Remondis Stadium by racing to a 24-0 lead at halftime largely orchestrated by Carney who kicked six goals on the night and had a hand in four of his side's six tries.
However the Tigers, who went into the game on the back of a fine win over premiers Melbourne last week, hit back after the break scoring four times in front of a crowd of just over 14,000 on a freezing cold Sydney evening.
Wade Graham opened the scoring for the hosts side after 10 minutes when Carney's kick cannoned off Robbie Farah's shins and into the arms of the back-rower.
Winger Nathan Stapleton then stretched the lead when he raced 65 metres to score before Carney kicked a 40-20 then set up Luke Lewis for a brilliant aerial grab with a crossfield bomb.
Daley would have been grinning from ear to ear with the Sharks' fourth try scored by NSW prop Andrew Fifita who produced an outrageous left-foot step and sprinted 50 metres to score under the posts against his former club.
Carney's successful kick gave the Sharks a comfortable lead at the break, but the Tigers, with words of coach Mick Potter still ringing in their ears, scored twice in the opening two minutes of the second period.
A fine break from Farah was finished off by James Tedesco and back-rower Bodene Thompson then crashed over from close range.
The Tigers added a third try through Tim Simona in the 54th minute with Farah again the architect with a chip-kick that left fullback Stewart Mills on his back and the young winger latched onto the loose ball to score.
Carney then set up Jayson Bukuya for the Sharks' fifth try of the night to put some arm's length between the sides, only for the Tigers to hit back again through Simona's second try.
However, Fifita had the final word with his second four-pointer late on to consolidate the Sharks' top-eight spot.
Sharks coach Shane Flanagan admitted his side switched off in the second half to let the Tigers back into the game, but said he was delighted with the manner of their performance in the first period particularly from Carney.
"If we are to be a consistent top-eight team, then we need to play in the second half like we did in the first where we were very good," Flanagan said.
"But we are without Paul Gallen, Beau Ryan and Michael Gordon and, to beat the really top teams, we need to have them back playing.
"But I thought Todd was good in the first half, he kicked well and I was pleased with how he played."
Tigers coach Mick Potter said his side didn't deserve to win the game after their first-half performance and said he had no complaints about the defeat.
"We weren't good enough. We blew it," Potter said.
"They got a good lead, we came back but we fluffed around, came up with errors. The other team was just simply better."
Cronulla Sharks 36 (A Fifita 2 J Bukuya W Graham L Lewis N Stapleton tries T Carney 6 goals) Wests Tigers 22 (T Simona 2 J Tedesco B Thompson tries B Marshall 3 goals) at Remondis Stadium. Referee: Matt Cecchin, Ben Cummins. Crowd: 13,843
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