Talakai runs riot as Sharks hold off Sea Eagles comeback

A stunning first-half performance by Cronulla wrecking ball Siosifa Talakai set up a 34-22 defeat of a gutsy Manly side in gale force winds at PointsBet Stadium on Thursday night.

Talakai was virtually unstoppable as he scored two tries and laid on three others in arguably the best 40 minute display by any player this season as the Sharks raced to a 32-0 half-time lead.

The Sydney-born Talakai, who has pledged his World Cup allegiances to Tonga, also produced three line breaks, two line-break assists, seven tackle breaks and three off-loads while carrying the ball 202 metres in 13 runs at left centre.

However, the Sea Eagles staged a spirited second half comeback after trailing 32-0 at the interval, despite an horrendous injury toll, which saw Des Hasler's men reduced to just one player on the bench.  

Star utility Dylan Walker and prop Taniela Paseka suffered knee injuries early in the second half and failed to finish the match, while Andrew Davey injured his shoulder.

The match was played in winds gusting up to 50kph and the only points scored by the team running into the southerly was a late Nicho Hynes penalty goal.

Match snapshot

  • The Sea Eagles had the worst possible start to the match when skipper Daly Cherry-Evans knocked on from the opening kick-off and Cronulla centre Siosifa Talakai scored in the second minute.
  • The Sharks almost scored again just five minutes later but fullback Will Kennedy was unable to cleanly pick up a Jesse Ramien grubber.
  • After falling short on the right side, Cronulla's halves Nicho Hynes and Matt Moylan again attacked the left with success after Royce Hunt offloaded to Blayke Brailey and the Sharks shifted the ball quickly to Talakai, who stepped out of Morgan Harper's attempted tackle to score in the 15th minute.
  • With two early tries to his name, Talakai turned provider in the 21st minute after Kennedy chimed into the backline before passing to the Tongan international, who managed to offload to winger Ronaldo Mulitalo, despite the attention of Harper and Jason Saab.
  • Mulitalo then got his second try six minutes later after Hynes, Moylan and Kennedy again combined before Talakai drew Harper and passed to his wing partner.
  • Talakai then showed he could do more than just break tackles and off-load when he raced 50 metres downfield and grubbered for Kennedy to score in the 29th minute.
  • The Sea Eagles suffered a further setback when forward Haumole Olakau'atu was sent to the sin bin after Hynes converted Kennedy's try for an earlier high shot on Aidan Tolman.
  • Hynes took advantage of the overlap and tiring Manly defence when he held up a short ball for second-rower Teig Wilton who crossed virtually untouched to score in the 40th minute.
  • The Sea Eagles needed to score first in the second half and they did when five-eighth Kieran Foran combined with Cherry-Evans and fullback Rueben Garrick, who threw a cut-out pass for winger Christian Tuipulotu to score in the 46th minute.
  • Cherry-Evans then raced out of dummy half to put Taniela Paseka over two minutes later and spark hopes of a miracle comeback.
  • Paseka became the second Manly played assisted from the field with a knee injury in the second half and the prop joined Dylan Walker on the sideline in the 52nd minute.
  • The injuries didn't slow the stunning second half Sea Eagles comeback, with hooker Lachlan Croker forcing his way over from dummy-half in the 55th minute.
  • Olakau'atu then helped to reduce Cronulla's lead to 32-22 after scoring off angled run from a Cherry-Evans pass in the 65th minute.
  • Andrew Davey, who had started the match in the frontrow, appeared set to score for the Sea Eagles when he collected a Cherry-Evans kick that rebounded off the right goal-post pad but he lost the ball as he landed awkwardly on his shoulder.
  • Hynes sealed the win by scoring the only points of the match by the team running into the win when he kicked a 79th minute penalty goal.

Play of the Game
Siosifa Talakai set the tone for the match when he charged over to score the opening try in just the second minute after Cronulla halves Nicho Hynes and Matt Moylan combined to create space for the giant centre.




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What They Said

"I didn't see that first half coming because we were coming off a five-day turnaround. You barely train with such a short turnaround so it's usually a scrappy affair and you have to dig in a bit and then we just executed at that level and I was also feeling a bit uncomfortable about our physical presence. The skill execution was very high level but I didn't think we were as physical as we needed to be. But I'm really happy on the back of a five-day turnaround to have a victory like that. Manly do not stop. Cherry-Evans and Foran, it felt like there were three of each of them out there by the end of the night." - Sharks coach Craig Fitzgibbon

"We scored 22 points in the second half, that's enough to win a game of football. We just didn't handle that first 40 minutes well enough. I thought our defence was a little bit 'iffy', that's probably an understatement given they ran in 32 points against us, and that can't happen. The positive I take out of it is when we respect the ball and make tackles you turn around and win the second half 22-2." - Sea Eagles coach Des Hasler

What's next 
The Sharks travel to Brisbane to take on the Broncos next Thursday night, while the Sea Eagles are away to South Sydney on Friday night.

Cronulla coach Craig Fitzgibbon will be sweating on the fitness of fullback Will Kennedy, who left the field late in the second half with a shoulder injury.

Dylan Walker (quad) and Taniela Paseka (knee) joined Manly's growing injury toll after being forced from the field early in the second half while Andrew Davey suffered a shoulder injury late in the match.

Samoan international Martin Taupau (COVID protocols) is expected to return next week but Josh Aloiai (shoulder), Morgan Boyle (ankle) and Josh Schuster (ankle) are still several weeks away, as is star fullback Tom Trbojevic (knee).




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Story first published on NRL.com

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Brad Walter, NRL.com Senior Reporter