On a day the Rockingham Sharks celebrated 30 years of rugby league in the southern metropolitan region, the 2017 model gave the 1988 version plenty to cheer about with a solid, but scrappy, 22-6 victory over South Perth Lions in their final regular season Smarter Than Smoking Premiership game.
The Sharks head into this weekend’s major semifinal clash with Fremantle, full of confidence after the win, but they were made to work for it, especially in a second half littered with errors and passages of broken play.
“It wasn’t pretty at times, but we got the job done,” coach Darren Shaw said.
“We had a couple of players out and they will be back next weekend so we’ll work hard this week and prepare for another big game.”
The Lions, with several first team regulars out, put in a solid performance and will be a threat against Joondalup Giants in the minor semi, but will rue the errors they made as they coughed up possession on three occasions to allow the home side to score.
With winger Connor Hudson making his 250th appearance in a Sharks jersey, from junior to senior, the Sharks wanted to get off to a quick start, but were foiled by the visitors’ defence.
The opening arm wrestle continued for the first 17 minutes before Hudson played his part in the first try of the day.
An error from the Lions and a resulting penalty saw a break and cross field move as young Josh Bransby – another club youngster – crossed the whitewash and Tyler Hunt’s conversion gave the home side a six point advantage.
13 minutes later the lead was extended when the superb Andy Jeffery went over from close range – from another South Perth error – and the Sharks went into the sheds 10-0 to the good.
Coach Shaw wasn’t happy with the first-half performance and let his players know, demanding better execution and ball control.
But this Sharks side grinds down opponents and this game saw nothing fancy – but a solid defensive showing across the field to keep the visitors scoreless for much of the game.
Almost against the run of play, and after a timely interception, the Sharks were in again, as Tyler Hunt, growing in maturity with every game, scored after a move set up by Reece Potter and Bransby.
The one blip in the game plan came in the 67th minute later when the Lions scored, deservedly, but the Sharks never looked like losing this game and fullback Benton Leme Pyako wrapped up the tie a minute later, when another South Perth mistake from the resulting kickoff gave the Sharks the opportunity to end the contest.
The ball was moved quickly across field as the tiring Lions defence struggled to keep pace and Pyako found a gap to cross in the corner.
Hunt’s superb kick from the touchline added the extras as the Sharks moved ominously into the finals ready to face the Roosters on Saturday at home.
Three Rockingham teams will contest this weekend’s finals, the first grade monitor premiers facing Fremantle, reserves will play Willagee Bears and Third grade will meet South Perth – all for a place in the grand final on September 16.
Pictures: Nancye Perrin