Digital Image by Ian Knight © nrlphotos.com: Kevin Naiqama (Penrith Panthers) NRL, Rugby League, Round 2, Melbourne Storm v Penrith Panthers @ AAMI Park, Melbourne, VIC, Saturday March 14th, 2014.

The Cronulla Sharks have proved too strong for the Panthers NSW Cup side, winning this afternoon’s battle 26-20 in front of a home crowd at Remondis Stadium.

Penrith’s defence let them down this week with a lot of missed tackles and handling errors near the line. Our attack was a little off too and we missed opportunities to score that would have been successful in previous weeks.

We started strongly, but by the end of the first half the home side had taken control of the game and they continued to dominate for the rest of the game.

Here’s how it all happened.

With 9 minutes gone, flying Fijian Eto Nabuli opened the scoring in spectacular fashion as he watched a cross field kick from Isaac John sail over towards him; at the perfect moment he leapt up and over everyone’s heads to pluck the ball out of the air and plant the ball down over the line. Will Smith missed the tricky sideline conversion so Penrith took a 4-0 lead.

For the next 15 minutes both sides hammered away at their lines with equal possession, but it was the Sharks who broke the stalemate when Matt Prior offloaded to backrower Tim Robinson on their 10m line, and he dived over the line to score under the posts. Nathan Stapleton converted and Cronulla took the lead 6-4.

They backed that up with another 4-pointer thanks to a major handling error from the Panthers, 10m out. Cronulla put a grubber kick towards their line and several Penrith players went for the ball but couldn’t get their hands on it, leaving it open for the Sharks #20 to pick it up and run it over the line. The kick was on target so the home side extended their lead to 12-4, with 7 minutes until half time.

HALF TIME: 12-4 Sharks

Penrith opened the scoring this half thanks to some brilliant trickery by hooker Kierran Moseley! After being awarded a repeat set in the 55th minute thanks to a Cronulla penalty a few metres out from our line, Moseley got the ball from dummy half, spotted a tiny gap right in front of him and dived in between two Sharks defenders to get the ball over the line. It took Cronulla a few seconds to realise what had happened! Will Smith was on target with the kick this time and took the score to 12-10.

We backed that up a couple of minutes later after Sharks centre Travis Robinson copped a knock to the face and was left behind up one end of the field, leaving a hole in the Sharks backline. The Panthers made the most of it and after running the ball up to our line, Daniel Foster offloaded a beautiful pass to Waqa Blake, who beat a pack of defenders to the line. Smith converted to give Penrith a 16-12 lead, with 30 minutes remaining.

The Panthers came under some intense pressure for the next 10 minutes with the Sharks launching a fierce attack on their line, but our defence held strong and we managed to keep them out.

Then a mistake from the Panthers gave Cronulla the opportunity they’d been waiting for, with Nathan Stapleton picking up a wayward pass on our 30m line and taking off down the field. No one could catch him and he ran the full 70m to score unopposed. The sideline kick went straight through the uprights, and the home side once again took the lead 18-16.

With 4 minutes on the clock Cronulla dug their heels in even deeper and extended their lead to 8. After drawing a couple of our players off their marks on their 10m line, their big #25 found a hole and drove himself over the line next to the uprights. The conversion was successful, so the score went to 24-16.

The final nail in the coffin was a penalty against the Panthers which gave Cronulla the chance to add another 2 points to their haul. It went straight through the middle of the posts, giving the Sharks a 10 point lead with less than a minute on the clock.

With less than 30 seconds remaining, Kevin Naiqama gave us a consolation try after getting a great ball on the sideline and sprinting 20m to score. The kick missed, but it wouldn’t have mattered anyway as the home side ran away with the win.

FULL TIME: 26-20 Sharks