Cronulla crush poor Canberra to reclaim NRL’s top spot

Alex Mitchell and Jacob Shteyman |

In-form Cronulla halfback Nicho Hynes scores a try in the Sharks’ thrashing of the Raiders.
In-form Cronulla halfback Nicho Hynes scores a try in the Sharks’ thrashing of the Raiders.

Cronulla are back on top of the NRL table after crushing a hapless Canberra outfit in a 40-0 shellacking at GIO Stadium.

Without vital halfback Jamal Fogarty, the Raiders looked blunt in attack and were no match for the surging Sharks, who scored seven unanswered tries to make it four wins on the bounce and inflict Canberra’s first home shutout in a decade.

Defence was just as much of a problem for the Green Machine, with some shocking lapses allowing their rivals to skip clear early without even playing their best football.

And when the Sharks hit their straps late they carved Canberra up, with winger Sione Katoa taking full advantage of the soft edges with the easiest of doubles.

Makeshift halfback and Raiders debutant Kaeo Weekes struggled to leave a mark on the contest, with his kicking game lacking the expertise Fogarty’s had been delivering.

“I’ve just got to be patient and keep working with the younger players because those boys who are injured, they’re not back for a number of weeks,” lamented a dejected Raiders coach Ricky Stuart.

Jesse Ramien celebrates with Cronulla teammates.
Canberra were dejected by their first home shutout in 10 years, including after Jesse Ramien’s try. (Lukas Coch/AAP PHOTOS)

Cronulla had no such problems despite the absence of Braydon Trindall after his midweek drink-driving charges, with Dan Atkinson confidently taking the five-eighth role and pairing with the in-form Nicho Hynes.

Atkinson proved an able foil as halfback Hynes ran rampant.

The 27-year-old scored one try, assisted two, kicked a 40-20 and ran the Sharks’ potent attack to cement his name in the thoughts of State of Origin selectors.

“He’s got a nice balance to his game at the moment,” coach Craig Fitzgibbon said.

“He’s obviously got the talent and skill … but his defensive form is as good as I’ve seen so he wouldn’t be out of place (in Origin).”

The Raiders were down 12-0 after two poor breakdowns, but could have found a way back on 26 minutes when speedster Xavier Savage put Danny Levi clean through.

But the hooker dropped the ball cold with minimal pressure on him, and instead of trailing 12-6 they were down 18-0 just a minute later when Katoa crossed out wide.

Ricky Stuart.
Ricky Stuart cuts a dejected figure as he dissects the 40-point humbling. (Lukas Coch/AAP PHOTOS)

The Sharks made the Raiders pay again soon after halftime, with second-rower Briton Nikora skipping through the line just two minutes after Canberra five-eighth Ethan Strange was held up in-goal.

NSW Origin candidate Cam McInnes had got the ball rolling for the Sharks with a scrambled team effort on 14 minutes, but the alarm bells really began ringing for the Raiders when prop Thomas Hazelton galloped through to score untouched soon after.

Cronulla’s defence looked unfazed by Canberra’s attack in the second half, comfortably keeping the home side scoreless at GIO Stadium for the first time since 2013.

The Raiders, whose spine features Weekes (22 years old, one club game), Strange (19, nine games) and fullback Chevy Stewart (18, three games), won’t have Fogarty for some three months as he recovers from a ruptured biceps.

The Sharks will be looking to add to the 152 points amassed in their past four games in their next match against St George, who are fresh off shipping 60 points to the Roosters.