The Sunday Mail (Queensland)

Cronulla bring Holmes the bacon in thrilling finish

- JAMES HOOPER

CRONULLA’S top-four dream is alive after the Sharks avoided a costly upset against Parramatta yesterday to claim the club’s first Johnny Mannah Cup.

It was a roller-coaster ride against a 15-man Eels outfit and Cronulla needed a late fightback to seal victory.

The Sharks must upstage Manly on Sunday to guarantee a top-four finish.

Largely written off after dropping the opening four matches of 2015 and collecting last year’s wooden spoon, the Sharks are charging.

When the game was on the line, winger Valentine Holmes stood up and delivered the decisive field goal.

“We hung in there and we’ve got that belief there at the moment,” Sharks coach Shane Flanagan said.

“(Holmes) just loves that stuff. He just gets himself into position and just wants to do it. “He demands the ball.” Cronulla led 20-10 at halftime before the Eels came from nowhere at Pirtek Stadium.

First came a 48th-minute solo try from prop Daniel Alvaro, who beat five Sharks in a 25m surge, to make it 20-16.

Cronulla kicked a penalty goal to lead 22-16 before the Eels scored through Reece Robinson to trail by two points.

Luke Kelly nailed the sideline conversion to level at 22-22 with 18 minutes left.

Eels hooker Isaac De Gois then spun out of a Michael Gordon tackle to score a try from close range to hand the Eels a 28-22 lead.

But Sharks winger Sosai Feki scored a long-range try to make it 28-28.

Holmes kicked the field goal to edge the Sharks to a one-point lead before hooker Ennis sealed the away victory with a late try.

“We could have done it a bit easier for the coach but the most important thing is we got the two points,” Cronulla captain Paul Gallen said.

Asked about Cronulla’s resurgence from last year’s wooden spoon, Gallen said: “We don’t have to go back to last year. We’ve had a lot of things going on the past couple of years but it’s done now.

“Last year was a different team and it’s gone. We started the year slow but we always had belief in ourselves that we’re a good enough side to make the top four.

“I just think we’re getting to where we should be.”

Eels coach Brad Arthur lamented how the club had been taught “another hard lesson”.

“We’ve got to learn how to win a game,’’ he said.

‘‘We were in front by six with about 10 minutes to go and go into a negative mindset.

“We’ve got to learn (to manage games) and we’ve got to learn fast.”

 ??  ?? BIG PLAY: Valentine Holmes after booting a field goal.
BIG PLAY: Valentine Holmes after booting a field goal.

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