Sharks farewell Fifita with scrappy, underwhelming win over Bulldogs
Ronaldo Mulitalo grabbed a try-scoring double as Cronulla farewelled Andrew Fifita while spluttering their way past Canterbury to claim an 16-0 NRL win.
In a showing that will do little to worry their premiership rivals, the Sharks made an uncharacteristically high 16 errors and completed at just 68 per cent.
The zip and panache which has typified their maiden season under coach Craig Fitzgibbon was nowhere to be seen, instead their performance was punctuated by players making basic mistakes or overplaying their hand.
Even the 11,500-strong home crowd who were saying goodbye to 2016 premiership hero Fifita and retiring prop Aiden Tolman couldn’t spark Cronulla into gear.
Fifita and Tolman could yet play one more game at the ground, providing the Sharks finish second on the NRL ladder to book a home semi-final.
The Sharks have won their past five games straight and would be expected to account for Newcastle next Sunday to give themselves the best possible chance of pipping North Queensland for second spot.
But the concern for Fitzgibbon will be that the Sharks haven’t hit top gear since they began their run with a golden point win over the Rabbitohs in round 20 and could head into the finals underdone.
In the first 20 minutes alone they made four errors and a try to Briton Nikora ought to have been enough to wake them from their slumber.
Mulitalo followed him over on the next set, but Fitzgibbon’s side lacked the patience and poise that has been ever present throughout their season to extend their advantage.
In fact, the Dogs could well have nabbed one back when halfback Kyle Flanagan sent a grubber kick into the in-goal on the stroke of half-time, only for stand-in Sharks fullback Lachlan Miller to bat the ball away.
Cronulla only led the Dogs 10-0 at the break and the home side continued to invite Canterbury to attack their line.
Fullback Jake Averillo looked to have made them pay only for the bunker to chalk the score off for an obstruction.
Cronulla halfback Nicho Hynes also spilt the ball near the Dogs’ line but made amends when he chipped over the top of the Canterbury defence for Mulitalo to regather and touch down for his 15th try of the season.
Fifita was given a standing ovation in the 68th minute – the same time he scored the grand final-winning try – and was thrown on for a second stint late in the game but was unable to recreate his feat.