Canterbury have comfortably put a heavily depleted Cronulla side to the sword at ANZ Stadium, easing to a 42-4 win.
The Sharks, who were missing Paul Gallen, Beau Ryan, Todd Carney and Jeff Robson due to injury, in addition to the suspended Canterbury-bound Andrew Fifita, included three players making their NRL debuts in their 17-man squad and were no match for full-strength Bulldogs side in front of crowd of 12,057.
Among the rookies were Michael Lichaa, the highly-rated young hooker who will be following Fifita to Belmore in 2015.
Trailing 24-0 at halftime following tries from Frank Pritchard, Michael Ennis and a Chase Stanley brace, the Sharks found themselves further behind just after the restart when Trent Hodkinson dived under the posts.
We’re not making excuses, it was 17 against 17.
The Sharks tried manfully after halftime to create some attacking intent, but sorely missed the guile and class of Carney, with the gifted playmaker due to return next week following a hamstring problem that has kept him out of action since the Auckland Nines.
Bulldogs winger Corey Thompson scored his first career try on the hour-mark when he showed great athleticism to keep his feet in touch, allowing the video referees to overrule the on-field officials.
Canterbury’s giant pack started to really dominate in the second half with the much-maligned Tony Williams really having an impact as the Sharks struggled to contain their hosts’ go-forward.
Josh Morris darted over from close range following some good work from the impressive Hodkinson, who added the extras with his seventh successful kick to add some extra gloss to the scoreline.
The NSW star was then denied a spectacular effort when he intercepted a Daniel Holdsworth short kick and raced 70 metres for a try.
But the video replay showed he was offside when he hauled in the Sharks’ halfback’s kick.
Cronulla did score from the last play of the game when former Bulldog Jonathan Wright went over in the right corner on the siren.
Cronulla coach Peter Sharp admitted his side were always going to face a difficult start to the season with so many senior players missing.
Luke Lewis and Anthony Tupou remain long-term absentees but Sharp is confident of having Ryan, Carney and Robson back soon.
“It was a tough night and the weight of possession told,” Sharp said. “But we’re not making excuses, it was 17 against 17. Todd should be back for the next game and Robbo has a broken jaw but we’re hoping round five with Beau round four.”
Canterbury coach Des Hasler said he was pleased his side got back to winning ways after losing their opening round clash to Brisbane.
“Those games can sometimes creep up on you and they were far from full strength,” he said. “The one thing we let ourselves down with last week was a bit of execution and it was great to get through the opportunities that were afforded to us.”