Two field goals by Cronulla halfback Chad Townsend in the last minute of each half have given the Sharks a gutsy, but unconvincing 10-9 win against the Gold Coast Titans at Cbus Super Stadium in a match marred by intermittent rain.
Ash Taylor looked to have put the match into golden point with a 35-metre field goal in the 77th minute but Townsend cooly answered two minutes later to snatch victory for the Sharks.
The experiment of Garth Brennan to play Bryce Cartwright in the halves with Taylor provided no great outcome for the Titans. Neither probed, or even passed, at the line, instead electing for block pays and flat passes and it was Sharks No.6 Matt Moylan who was the most positive and dangerous in the final 30 minutes as the game was there to be won. And for much of the match their last-tackle kicks were ineffective.
With experienced campaigners Paul Gallen, Wade Graham and Luke Lewis missing, it was an important and admirable victory for the Sharks against their bogey side of recent years.
Just 90 seconds in Konrad Hurrell coughed the ball up in a tackle inside the Titans' half to put pressure on the home side and that set the trend for the first half. The Titans rarely completed a set with any assuredness and could not create one repeat set of possession.
However, they were first to score, in the sixth minute through a Michael Gordon penalty goal after the Sharks were penalised for interference in the ruck.
Match: Titans v Sharks
Round 8 -
Venue: Cbus Super Stadium
- LIVE PASS
The Sharks responded quickly with a try to winger Valentine Holmes. A Townsend bomb was spilled in the air by Gordon eight metres from his line and Jesse Ramien was just able to keep possession from the rebound and find Holmes. Townsend missed the conversion, leaving the Sharks with a 4-2 lead.
The Titans wasted a golden opportunity to strike right back. Titans' best Jai Arrow busted through Moylan from deep inside his own territory and found Hurrell and Taylor inside. From the next ruck the ball swung wide but the pass from Brendan Elliot to Phillip Sami was ruled forward in a 50-50 call.
At that stage the Titans had completed just five or their first eight sets of possession, meaning they had made 50 more tackles than the Sharks by the 25th minute mark. Gold Coast kept making errors and the Sharks capitalised, with a touch of good fortune. A pass from Townsend was deflected by Scott Sorensen to Josh Dugan who gave left winger Edrick Lee a free 10-metre run to the line. Again Townsend's conversion went wide and the Sharks led 8-2.
Townsend then gave the Sharks a deserved seven-point lead by half-time with a field goal 45 seconds before the break.
The tale of the tape was obvious – the Sharks had completed 19 of 22 sets (86 percent) to the Titans' 11 from 16 (69 percent). Three times the Titans had failed to get the ball to Taylor for a last-tackle kick. And they had lost their best defensive back-rower in Will Matthews through HIA just before the break.
The Titans came out with more purpose in the second half and Mitch Rein scored in their second set when he darted low from dummy half on the line. The on-field decision was a try and replays looked like he might have been short but it was deemed there was insufficient evidence to overturn. Gordon's easy conversion made it 9-8.
The home side went close to taking the lead in the 57th minute when they ran the ball on the last down the short side to the right and Gordon got to the line but was held up by some good defence.
With 21 minutes remaining came a telling play but the Titans couldn't capitalise. Arrow put pressure on Townsend's fifth-tackle kick and it rebounded off his legs. Hurrell chased the rebound but Dugan arrived first only to drop the ball 35 metres from his line.
Next time they were in Sharks' territory they forced a goal-line dropout but again couldn't take advantage, with halves Cartwright and Taylor failing to go to the line and force the play.
With just under seven minutes to go Sharks forward Luke Capewell almost sealed the game when he leapt high to take a James Segeyaro kick on the last tackle and crawled towards the line but it was ruled he had promoted the ball in a double movement in the tackle by Max King.
Taylor levelled the scores with four minuets remaining with a field goal from 30 metres after Arrow made yet another strong hit-up to put the Titans into good position.
The Titans looked set to snatch victory just over a minute later when, from the set after the kick-off, a towering Taylor bomb found the ground and Cartwright came up with the ball but his flick pass was put down by Ryan James.
It was Townsend who became the hero with just 90 seconds remaining. Dugan had broken through from Sharks territory and his 35-metre charge threw the Sharks into field goal range. Townsend made no mistake from 25 metres just to the right of the posts.
The Sharks will chase a third win on the trot when they host the Parramatta Eels at Southern Cross Stadium next Saturday night. The Titans, meanwhile, have slipped to 3-5 and face a daunting road trip to Canberra in round nine.