NZ Warriors bitten by Sharks in second half
The NZ Warriors again offered Cronulla solace amid another controversial start to a NRL season, gifting the Sharks a staggering 37-6 victory to provide the embattled club with a much-needed boost tonight.
In the corresponding fixture at Remondis Stadium in 2013, the Sharks set aside the drama of being implicated in the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority's investigation into performance-enhancing drug use by thrashing the Warriors 28-4.
A year on - with coach Shane Flanagan suspended and doubts over Kangaroos test prop Andrew Fifita's future at the club - a significantly depleted lineup notched their first win of the season in even more emphatic fashion, with Nathan Stapleton's quartet headlining the Sharks' fourth successive win over the Warriors.
The Warriors had not won at the Sharks headquarters since 2010, and although success against North Queensland and Wests Tigers hinted at a resurgence after their own poor start to the campaign, they needed a last-minute try by Manu Vatuvei to avoid being held scoreless for the first time since Melbourne racked up 30 points at Mt Smart in 2009.
They now must seek to bounce back at their New Zealand graveyard, Eden Park, when they host the Canterbury Bulldogs on Sunday.
Cronulla, blanked 30-0 in Newcastle last weekend, and the worst offensive team in the competition, with only 28 points in four previous games, addressed those statistical anomalies in style as the Warriors failed to back up from last weekend's 42-18 triumph over the Wests Tigers.
A perfect floating pass by Todd Carney enabled Stapleton to start the rout by outflanking marker Vatuvei to score in the corner - the first of seven Sharks touchdowns.
The majority of the tries were instigated by Warriors ill-discipline or unforced errors, leaving head coach Matt Elliott to mull over one of the worst performances of his tenure.
"The last two weeks we completed over 80 per cent, I think we were under 50 (59 per cent)," he said.
"We put ourselves under an immense amount of pressure and the opposition took advantage of it."
The Australian could not explain why the Warriors' ball security was so poor in blustery, though fine, conditions.
"I didn't seen any of that in our preparation at all. We're going to have to do some really heavy research into that."
Despite trailing 16-0 at the break, Elliott had been confident the Warriors could still recover - until a shambolic opening to the second spell.
"We came out with errors in our first three offensive sets and first three defensive sets after halftime. We kept building pressure on ourselves and not the opposition."
"We denied ourselves that opportunity. You can't compete when you make that amount of errors. The lack of respect for possession has to be turned around."
The Warriors had only 39 per cent of possession and made 17 errors to the Sharks' nine; they also had to make 122 more tackles.
A lopsided penalty count in the first half was another debilitating factor as they battled against a strong breeze - and themselves.
Shaun Johnson's failure to find touch with a rare relieving penalty summed up the Warriors malaise in the 27th minute. Shortly after, conceded possession from a restart and Tagataese beat three defenders after a restart to post the Sharks' third try.
There was hope the elements might shift the momentum in the second half, but instead the Sharks proceeded to blow their opponents off the park with a trio of demoralising tries - ending the contest with 20 minutes remaining.
Cronulla Sharks 37 (Nathan Stapleton 4, Tinirau Arona, Sam Tagataese, Blake Ayshford tries; Michael Gordon 4 goals; Todd Carney field goal) NZ Warriors 6 (Manu Vatuvei try; Shaun Johnson goal). HT: 16-0