South Sydney secured their first shut-out victory in 15 years to spoil Cronulla hooker John Morris’ 300th NRL game in a 18-0 win at Remondis Stadium on Monday night.
Without Paul Gallen and Luke Lewis (both Origin) and Andrew Fifita, Beau Ryan, Anthony Tupou and Todd Carney due to injury, the Sharks’ season of woe continued with Ricky Leutele, Sosaia Feki and David Fifita joining the casualty list.
As solid as the Rabbitohs’ defence was in their first clean sheet performance since 1999, the Sharks’ pedestrian attack never looked like troubling the scoreboard – Bryce Gibbs coming closest when he was denied for being offside in the first half.
Anchored to last place with half the season still remaining – and the ASADA saga showing no sign of abating – the Sharks don’t appear to have the attacking arsenal to turn their plight around.
The Rabbitohs earned an important win without superstar fullback Greg Inglis as they moved back into the top eight.
Halfback Adam Reynolds’ kicking game was sharp, reminding NSW coach Laurie Daley of his strengths should the Canterbury halves combination of Trent Hodkinson and Josh Reynolds not go to plan against Queensland on Wednesday night.
The only silver lining for the battling Sharks was the sight of Andrew Fifita warming up with teammates in a sign the Origin and Test powerhouse could be in contention for an early NRL return in two weeks’ time after the bye.
In a low-scoring game despite the dry conditions, a barnstorming first-half try to Souths lock Sam Burgess was enough to propel the Rabbitohs towards the two points.
The result was put beyond doubt in the 56th minute when winger Joel Reddy came in-field to pop a smart offload before Dylan Walker burst through a hole to set up his centre partner Kirisome Auva’a for a 30-metre dash to the line.
Reserve hooker Cameron McInnes burrowed over from dummy half seven minutes later.
Cronulla’s night and dismal season was summed up early in the second half when halfback Jeff Robson raced downfield on a 40m first-tackle run, before his loose offload to fullback Michael Gordon was turned back over.
Gordon always looks likely from the back, but halves Robson and Daniel Holdsworth struggled to spark the attack – their mis-firing kicking game a major concern.
Morris ran through a banner pre-match, with his family on hand to honour the four-club veteran for becoming the 19th member of the NRL’s 300-game club.
Morris was presented with a commemorative ring on the field post-match by NRL boss Dave Smith, and fellow Cronulla 300-gamer Andrew Ettingshausen.
Souths expect Issac Luke to be available for selection next week, however coach Michael Maguire admits dropping Apisai Koroisau won’t be an easy decision.
Maguire praised his troops for their toughness in defence, but wants to see more in attack.
“We knew it was going to be a tough old game down here,” he said.
“The boys made it hard for themselves at times. Great to see they got nil, they’ve been working hard to get a team nil. Last time was in 1999 against Penrith so little things along the way like that are pleasing to achieve. We’ve just got to keep backing it up now.”
Cronulla coach Peter Sharp confirmed Andrew Fifita was in contention for the club’s next-start clash with St George Illawarra, but lamented another luckless night.
“When you’re in a dark place you’re down on execution and we didn’t execute well tonight and we weren’t terribly smart in patches either,” Sharp said.
“I think we’re trying really hard … we just weren’t good enough tonight and we’re terribly busted as well.”