It’s a sign of Cronulla’s evolution into regular premiership contenders during Paul Gallen’s 17 seasons at the club that the Sharks captain was able to enjoy most of his record-equalling 328th premiership match from the sideline as his team-mates made short work of the Titans.
Gallen, who will surpass Andrew Ettingshausen as the most capped Cronulla player in Townsville next Saturday night, played the opening 26 minutes and only returned to the action for the final 10 minutes to help the Sharks to a 20-6 win.
In previous seasons, Cronulla would not have been able to afford to leave the man who captained the club to their only grand final triumph in 2016 on the sideline for so long but the Sharks were always in control.
With Andrew Fifita, Aaron Woods, Matt Prior, Kurt Capewell and Briton Nikora all running for more than 100 metres, Cronulla no longer need to rely on Gallen to lead them as they did for much of his stellar career with the club.
"It's pretty hard to give them all big minutes and Gal's pretty open this year to not playing as much minutes," Cronulla coach John Morris said. "He's happy to get off to a good solid start and then see how the game goes.
"Gal's minutes will probably come down this year to what he has played in the past. He is open to that and where he is in his career.
"What Gal has done for this club, to be the first player to hold that [Summons-Provan] trophy up as captain in 2016 will obviously be remembered for ever."
Match: Sharks v Titans
Round 2 -
Venue: Shark Park
- LIVE PASS
With hooker Jayden Brailey (concussion) and winger Sosaia Feki (knee) failing to finish the match, second-rower Briton Nikora needing to go off for a HIA and interchange forward Jayson Bukuya spending time in the sin bin, Morris was unable to send Gallen back into the fray until late in the game.
The former NSW State of Origin captain declined a presentation on the field after the match in recognition of his achievement.
"I will probably reflect back on it when I retire but at the moment it is just about results," Gallen said. "These milestones come along which are great but it is all about getting the win."
Playmakers Shaun Johnson, Chad Townsend and Matt Moylan controlled the game, while winger Sione Katoa finished with two tries and ran 209 metres, but the Sharks only completed 26 of their 41 sets and lost the penalty count 14-5.
As a result, they were forced to 370 tackles to 317 by the Titans, who had 54 per cent of possession and dominated field position.
However, it took 48 minutes for the Titans to finally get their first points of the season after being shut out 21-0 against Canberra in the opening round and the only thing for Gold Coast fans to get excited about was the performance of Jai Arrow, who ran 254 metres with the ball.
Yet only good fortune prevented Cronulla from conceding two early tries as Titans forwards Ryan James and Jai Arrow each had a try disallowed by video review official Ben Love in the opening five minutes.
Sharks centre Josh Dugan was also denied a try in the ninth minute after being pushed over the sideline by Tyrone Peachey and when Matt Moylan put the ball into touch while attempting to field a kick it looked like being a long afternoon for the home team.
However, momentum shifted when Sione Katoa crossed for his first try in the 16th minute after a long cut out pass from Johnson and the Cronulla winger grabbed his second just eight minutes later.
Katoa had an earlier scoring opportunity after Moylan sent him racing into the clear but he became confused about which direction to head and was rounded up by the Titans defence.
Johnson was again responsible for Katoa’s second try after drawing Peachey before passing to Dugan, who in turn sent the ball on to the right winger.
Dugan then got a try of his own in bizarre circumstances after an attempted offload by Fifita hit the ground and the Tongan prop toed the ball backwards after Peachey knocked on trying to pick up the loose ball.
Trailing 14-0 after Johnson’s first successful conversion, things went from bad to worse for the Titans when rookie forward Nikora burst through a gap created by Moylan to score in the 35th minute.
Gold Coast five-eighth AJ Brimson had an opportunity to score his side’s first try just before halftime but he lost the ball diving across the line and the visitors went to the break 20-0 down.
Finally, winger Brenko Lee had a try awarded for the Titans in the 48th minute after Peachey took advantage of an overlap out wide following a long break by Arrow in the middle of the field.
Yet even with Cronulla being a man down after the 59th minute sin-binning of Bukuya it was the Sharks who looked more likely to score next and Katoa was disallowed a third try because of an obstruction.