Defensive lapses end Cronulla's NRL bid

·2-min read

The defensive steel which has been a hallmark of Cronulla's first NRL season under Craig Fitzgibbon abandoned the Sharks when they needed it most.

Cronulla were cut to pieces by South Sydney in Saturday night's semi-final, ensuring coach Fitzgibbon's men were bundled out of the finals in straight sets.

The 38-12 defeat to the Rabbitohs came after they conceded 32 points in their qualifying final loss to the North Queensland Cowboys last week.

"If you look at our season we defended really well all year," said Sharks skipper Wade Graham.

"The game is quite brutal and can humble you, we missed the mark as a team.

"We paid for it two weeks in a row, two scores over 30. You're not going to win a regular season game let alone two finals where it's all on the line."

Since the midway point of the season the Sharks had the best defence in the competition, conceding less than 12 points per game on their way to locking up second spot.

That figure was the lowest since Melbourne in 2008 over the back part of the season.

But on Saturday the Sharks lost their way and were uncharacteristically out of sorts without the ball in their possession.

"For semi-finals, the defence wasn't good enough," Fitzgibbon said. "I won't be finishing this year happy."

The first try of the night was a routine hit-up from Souths prop Mark Nicholls, who bounced off an unconvincing tackle from Sharks front-rower Toby Rudolf on the goal-line to score after just two minutes.

The Bunnies burned them with a spread to the right to exploit an overlap through Taane Milne to make it 12-0 after half an hour.

Cronulla needed to hang on for the final 60 seconds of the first half but Souths captain Cameron Murray was able to duck under a Dale Finucane tackle 15 metres from the tryline.

Finucane valiantly chased before falling to his knees and looking to the sky at Allianz Stadium.

At that point he knew the Sharks had blown their chance of getting back into the game.

Briton Nikora crossed for the Sharks after halftime but they continued to fall off tackles.

The final nail in the coffin came when Souths halfback Lachlan Ilias touched down after four Rabbitohs players offloaded down a short-side play.

The Rabbitohs made a point of targeting the left wing of Lachlan Miller, who was a late call-up to a reshuffled backline following injury to Siosifa Talakai.

The Sharks have shown they can trouble the NRL's best sides this year, the trick for Fitzgibbon will be making sure that with experience they can do it in the games that really count.