Uncharacteristically polished by this season’s standards, Canterbury forced errors and won penalties against the Sharks and Jack Cogger extended their lead to 8-0 with a penalty goal shortly after. They looked anything but cellar-dwellers early in the match as Foran broke through the line with ease, setting up fullback Dallin Watene-Zelezniak to race away to the try-line and make it 14-0 after another successful Cogger conversion.
The hosts were in cruise control but the tide began to turn when injury forced Foran off the field. It wasn’t long before the error-prone defending that ha plagued the Bulldogs this season crept back into their game. With their first meaningful raid, Cronulla prised open holes in Canterbury’s defence after the half-hour mark as Sosaia Feki finished a simple move that exposed an overlap out wide.
Pay would have been furious as the Sharks clawed their way back into the contest on the stroke of half time. A Josh Morris one-on-one strip won possession 10 metres out and Cronulla inflicted more punishment in the resulting set. A careless illegal strip by Bulldogs second rower Corey Harawira-Naera spilled the ball into the path of Shaun Johnson who scored one of the easiest tries of his career to make it 14-8 at the break.
Whatever Pay said to his side during the break couldn’t turn the momentum back in favour of Canterbury. Josh Jackson was put on report for a crusher tackle on Morris seven minutes into the second half but his team’s woes were more immediate. From that penalty, Josh Dugan scored a try in the corner and had Johnson’s conversion been successful, the visitors would have drawn level.
The hosts continued to look vulnerable in the face of waves of attacks from the Sharks and were thanking the video referee for keeping their slender lead in tact. Cronulla’s Bronson Xerri had his try ruled out after an obstruction was spotted in the lead-up.
In surviving that onslaught, Canterbury managed to galvanise. While offering little more in attack, they became more stoic defensively. They forced enough errors upon Cronulla to break their earlier momentum and regain their grip on the contest.
Just as they were on course for the upset win, Cronulla’s Jack Williams broke through the line to race 80 metres to score what would have been a match-winning try. However, he was chased down by a relentless Bulldogs defence who scrambled to hold the forward metres short of the try-line to secure the hard-fought win.