Cronulla have moved into the NRL’s top eight after a 20-point win over Canterbury but it has come at the cost with key playmaker Shaun Johnson suffering a hamstring injury that could keep him out of much of his side’s march towards the finals.
The Sharks will be sweating on the results of scans this week but the New Zealand international’s history of hamstring injuries puts him in doubt for much of the remaining six games of his tenure with Cronulla, who remain firmly in the hunt for September action.
“We won’t know the severity of his hamstring injury until maybe tonight, maybe not until tomorrow. We cross our fingers it’s not too bad,” Cronulla Sharks coach Josh Hannay said. “We won’t be jumping at shadows, we’ll assess and see where it’s at and get him back whenever he’s ready.”
After last week’s defeat to Canberra, the Sharks rediscovered their attacking tooth in the 44-24 win over Canterbury with winger Sione Katoa playing a starring role. The 23-year-old scored two tries, set up another and could have crossed for a few more had his teammates been more astute and the bunker perhaps more generous. His combination with Johnson proved lethal before the half was forced off with injury after setting up Katoa for two first-half tries.
The first came after a cut-out pass splitting the Bulldogs’ defensive line allowed Katoa to cross with ease to open the scoring early in the match. Cronulla kept finding space on the flanks and after 15 minutes Ronaldo Mulitalo seized on another overlap on the opposite flank.
The Bulldogs thought they had gained a foothold in the contest when Luke Thompson barraged his way over for their first try, but the second-rower went from hero to villain within minutes when he was sin-binned for a late shot on Blayke Brailey. With the numerical advantage, the Sharks ran riot. Katoa scored a stunning finish in the corner before setting-up will Kennedy moments later. The ten-minute onslaught continued with Siosifa Talakai crossing the line to make it 30-6 by the break.
The Dogs struck back immediately after the restart with Nick Meaney grounding Lachlan Lewis’ high ball to give them faint hopes of a comeback.
The odds of that happening slimmed further when another high kick from Lewis lead to Dylan Napa crashing over for another try to reduce the deficit to 12 points.
But the Sharks laboured their way back into a comfortable lead, having been on the ropes for the first 15 minutes of the match, when Toby Rudolf burrowed his way over to score next to the uprights to extend the margin to 36-16.
Despite the comfort of the scoreboard, they remained frail in defence while the Bulldogs refused to surrender.
Thompson broke through Cronulla’s line shortly after to set up Jake Averillo through the middle but all hopes of a Canterbury comeback were eventually extinguished with a late Connor Tracey try.
Never miss a medal or great sporting moment with our Olympic update emailed daily. Sign up for our Sport newsletter here.