Matthews Cup Sharks ‘steel’ a Finals berth with last round win
A determined second half defensive effort has seen the Matthews Cup Sharks hold on to beat the Illawarra Steelers, sneak into the top six and qualify for the upcoming Finals series.
The under-17 Sharks started strongly, skipping out to a 12-0 lead, however against an Illawarra side also fighting to keep their season going, were forced to show plenty of resilience and determination in scoring a 12-8 victory.
The win saw the Matthews Sharks jump the Steelers and move into sixth position on the ladder, setting up a likely clash with the third placed Eels following the Easter break.
In the later game it was a disappointing end to a frustrating season for the SG Ball Sharks, the Steelers proving too good in running out 30-8 winners.
In the Matthews Cup match, despite running into the a stiff southerly and persistent rain, the Sharks got a jump start on their rivals with two early tries, the first to halfback Oliver Lester who backed up an Alex Challenor line break, before Lester became the provider, a grubber kick from the half back claimed by halves partner Blake Wardrobe for his team’s second.
Centre Nikora Williams kicked both conversions and after just eight minutes the Cronulla side led 12-0.
The Steelers managed a try before half time, then another inside the final 10 minutes of the match, however the Sharks would hold their nerve to claim the win.
As expressed by coach Brad Kelly, the Sharks were able to build their victory on the quick start in what was a game against a quality opponent, one where the winner would progress and the loser finish up their 2023 season.
“It was a die or die game, the boys knew the equation but the focus was on performing well today and letting the result take care of itself,” Kelly said.
“The boys came out of the blocks 100 miles an hour, started really well with those two quick tries, and that was it for our scoring for the day. But we were able to defend our way to the end of the game to get the victory.
“We identified they had some really good players and for 95 per cent of the game we did a really good job of nullifying their attack. I was really happy with the defensive resolve and to be able to hold on for that amount of time was really good,” Kelly added.
The Matthews Sharks had 17 committed players on the day, with Kelly reserving special mention for a handful of standout performers.
“Alex Challenor was very good again, Will Stewart was strong at the back and both halves were linking well together, particularly in the first half. And I thought Nikora Williams, it was one his better games for the season. All the boys did a really good job,” Kelly said.
With a week off for Easter the Sharks will now prepare for a sudden death semi final on the weekend of April 15-16.
In the last game of the day the Ball Sharks, out of contention for a Finals berth, were outgunned by a Steelers side clinging to a faint hope of finishing inside the top six.
Illawarra scored first, the Sharks then crossed twice to take an 8-6 lead, before going to half time with the Steelers up by 12-8.
The second 35 minutes was then all in favour of the visitors, three second half tries, all converted, saw the Sharks slip to their sixth defeat in nine matches in 2023.
Stay tuned for details of the Matthews Cup Sharks week one Finals match.
MATTHEWS CUP SHARKS 12 Olive Lester, Blake Wardrobe tries, Nikora Williams 2 goals beat STEELERS 8
SG BALL SHARKS 8 Sam McCullough, Lawson Cotter tries Lost to STEELERS 30
Don't forget to also visit sharks.com.au for more news and photos about the Sharks and Sharks junior representative teams.
Pictures: Adam Wrightson
Want to download pictures?
Matthews Cup: https://photos.app.goo.gl/XLrXLQBZZw4Am58P8