NRL 2014 - CRONULLA SUTHERLAND SHARKS v GOLD COAST TITANS. Action from the Round 1 National Rugby League (NRL) clash between the Cronulla Sutherland Sharks v Gold Coast Titans, 10th March 2014 at Remondis Stadium, Woolooware NSW. Photo Joe Vella / SMP Images

Our boys graft out tough win

Titans 18 beat Sharks 12 at Remondis Stadium

It was fast, and at times furious. It had contentious referees’ calls and the Sharks number one man Paul Gallen being escorted off after half an hour. And while their 18-12 victory might not have been ‘pretty’, when the iSelect Titans left Remondis Stadium tonight they had every reason to be satisfied with two competition points.

The win was rich in effort, particularly a determined defensive attitude. And that is certainly something coach John Cartwright knows his side can use as a springboard.

“They are a tough team to beat down here, they scramble really well and are a good side, and no matter how we played to get a win we have to be happy with it,” said coach John Cartwright appropriately.

His side was behind 6-0 after 16 minutes after as ‘soft’ try to Sharks back-rower Tinirau Arona from 25 metres despite dominatating possession and territory for the first quarter of an hour. But with halfback Albert Kelly adding the spark, and fellow little man William Zillman showing a tonne of courage and class at the back, the pack defended well enough to grind out a victory.

Zillman was flattened by Sharks’ forward Siosaia Vave as he took yet another high ball, the tackle going on report. Yet the Titans fullback recovered to score the match-sealing try nine minutes from full-time, breaking a 12-all deadlock after brilliantly pulling in a loose ball that rebounded off a Sharks defender after a Kelly grubber into the in-goal.

Prop Luke Douglas, the focus of much attention leading up to the match with his breaking of Jason Taylor’s successive appearance record of 195, described is as a tough and satisfying victory at the place where his career began in 2006.

But he did not underestimate how much tougher life has become for the big men in the game with the new ‘no wrestle’ edict gleaned from the new defensive rules which has seen more dummy half running and easy yardage right throughout the first round. And the defence close to the line was at times desperate.

“You have to get to marker and make sure you’re square, stop the scooter and don’t get left behind,” said Douglas who was awarded with the match-ball as a memento from Taylor after the game.

There was plenty of courage in the victory. Co-skipper Greg Bird was flattened midway through the first half in a heavy tackle, aggravating his troublesome elbow but returned to his feet and battled on well, scoring the side’s first try in the 24th minute.

Zillman handled the heavy bombing raids brilliantly, and backed up to continually inject himself on the right side, often in tandem with Kelly who came up with some telling plays.

It was Kelly, nine minutes before half-time, who had given the Titans a 10-6 lead at the break when he anticipated a long ball from Sharks dummy half Isaac Du Gios right on the Titans’ line and ran the length of the field, showing outstanding pace to run away from the converging Michael Gordon.

But what may have been the most crucial should have led to a try. He scrambled over in the 42nd minute with the score at 10-6 to the Titans and reached out to, seemingly plant the ball over the line. Referee Jared Maxwell signalled that he thought it was a try before asking the video referees to adjudicate. They found enough reason to overrule the call although it was extremely debatable whether video evidence was strong enough to justify the about face with little doubt Kelly’s hand was securely on the ball when it touched the ground.

Ten minutes later Wade Graham gave the Sharks a 12-10 lead with a try beside the posts after a neat grubber to the in-goal by Daniel Holdsworth. Fortunately Kelly and Zillman conspired to give the Titans the lead back and their mates held on.

The referees’ calls affected both teams, as can often be the case, and Cartwright conceded that despite still being puzzled by a couple of ruling that went against the Titans.

“There were a couple of critical decisions that could have hurt us,” he said. “The main one was the Albert Kelly no try; the referee called it a try and I can’t see how they came up with the decision, I saw no separation, just the ball planted on the line. But over the season you get some good ones and bad ones, tonight it was pretty even.

“We responded well, that was the main thing.

“It was a really fast game, quite hectic. The rule changes have made it a really, really fast game. I think they have to find a balance, there were a lot of penalties and dummy half running and that is where the easy yards are. That’s the way it is going if we keep speeding the play the ball up.”

With Gallen missing, the Titans forwards had the better of the centre-field battle with the Sharks’ dangerous ball-playing prop Fifita not coming into the game until the final 20 minutes. Fifita was put on report for a shoulder charge on the unprotected Titans winger David Mead in a tackle, an incident similar to the one on Thursday night that saw Roosters’ Sonny Bill Williams also on report.

The Titans players were satisfied with their defence and handled the ruck-scramble probably as well as anyone in round one, but certainly would have liked to have been tidier with the ball considering the amount of possession they had.

Dave Taylor was busy defensively after starting the game, which would have been pleasing for coach Cartwright; Nate Myles also worked hard, showing enormous resilience in his first game since the World Cup, and Bird was, as usual, inspirational.

Titans 18 (Bird, Kelly, Zillman tries; Sezer 3 goals) beat Sharks 12 (Aruma, Graham tries; Gordon 2 goals). Crowd: 9321.