Cronulla’s disastrous start to the 2014 NRL season has continued, with the Gold Coast recording an 18-12 win over the Sharks at Remondis Stadium.
With coach Shane Flanagan last week failing in his appeal to overturn a 12-month ban over the supplements scandal, the Sharks, already without Todd Carney, Jeff Robson, Beau Ryan and Chris Heighington, lost talismanic skipper Paul Gallen with a potentially serious ankle injury.
Gallen, who was celebrating his 233rd appearance for the Sharks – second behind club great Andrew Ettingshausen – was helped off late in the first half after being held up in a tackle by Titans duo Luke Bailey and Matt White.
He could now face a battle to be fit for the opening match of the State of Origin series in May, with the possibility that he could spend up to four months on the sidelines.
The Titans were deserving winners, claiming the two points with a William Zillman try nine minutes from time following a smart grubber-kick from former Shark Albert Kelly.
John Cartwright’s side dominated the opening exchanges but had nothing to show for their dominance and the hosts took the lead against the run of play when new signing Tinirau Arona darted over from close range.
Michael Gordon added the extras to open up a 6-0 lead, but the outstanding Greg Bird, another former Shark, helped level the scores when he bulldozed his way over the line after 25 minutes before Kelly raced away with 90-metre interception for four points.
Titans five-eighth Aidan Sezer missed the kick, giving the visitors a 10-6 lead at halftime.
The second half saw the Sharks control the early passages of play and they regained the lead when Wade Graham’s effort – disallowed by the on-field officials – was overruled by the video referee and Gordon kicked the goal.
A Sezer penalty put the Titans back on level terms before fullback Zillman got the final touch to Kelly’s kick to give his side a winning start to the new campaign.
Titans prop Luke Douglas set a new record with his 195th successive NRL match.
Gallen will undergo scans on Tuesday to assess a syndesmosis problem.
In 2009, Sydney Roosters fullback Anthony Minichiello sustained a similar injury in a round-two game against Canberra and was out of action until round 20 following surgery.
NSW centre Michael Jennings missed eight games, including two Origin clashes when playing for Penrith in 2011.
But Gallen will be hoping he can emulate Ben Barba’s return after five weeks last season when he came back in time to play in Canterbury’s finals clash with Newcastle.
He said after the match that he was confident of a return to action within three to four weeks and believes the problem is not as bad as a similar injury he picked up earlier in his career.
“It’s a terrible start to the year, I could feel it. It just got stuck. It’s one of those things,” Gallen said. “I heard something crack, so I knew I did something straight away.
“I did it in a trial game in the 2006-07 season, so I knew what it was. They said then I’d miss six weeks but I only missed three to four games. I don’t think it’s as bad as that.”
The 32-year-old was helped from the field towards the end of the first half after immediately signalling he was in some pain to the Sharks bench.
The injury ruined a milestone evening for the back-rower, who was playing his 233rd NRL match for the club, moving past David Peachey as the second most-capped Sharks player of all-time.
Gallen was presented with his shirt pre-game by Ettingshausen, who holds the record of 328 appearances.
The Test star endured an injury-hit 2013 campaign, playing just 16 NRL games and missing the State of Origin decider in July after failing to recover from a foot problem.
He joins an already crowded treatment room at the Sharks.