The Penrith Panthers notched their 10th-straight win with a 38-12 thumping over of the Cronulla Sharks.
The Sharks suffered an early setback with Kiwi five-eighth Shaun Johnson ruled out with a groin issue, and their rudderless attack on Friday night proved to be a major flaw as the Panthers were relentless.
Cronulla’s defence was porous too which helped Penrith stack on points early, scoring three tries through Viliame Kikau, Josh Mansour, and Brent Naden before the Sharks even got on the board.
Jesse Ramien was the man to cross for the Sharks but a try to in-form winger Stephen Crichton on the stroke of halftime gave the Panthers a big lead into the break.
Kikau scores for the Panthers
Liam Martin and Jarome Luai joined the try-scoring party before Mansour had a double in his 150th game.
The Sharks were ineffective with the ball in hand, at one point completing just 68 percent of their sets and errors ruining any chance of a fightback.
A late consolation try to Connor Tracey reduced the deficit for Cronulla but the damage was done by then.
Sharks coach John Morris said his side never really deserved to win with eight errors to Penrith’s two in the first half not meeting the gameplan they had set out.
“We came here with a plan to start well, we know that Penrith start fast. Our whole focus of the week was managing our start so that was really disappointing,” Morris said post-game.
“We put so much pressure on ourselves and they’re just too good of a team. You have to build pressure and get some fatigue into them and we weren’t able to do that and probably got what we deserved.”
Morris also expressed dismay at Cronulla’s ball security.
“We’re the most stripped team in the comp. We had three last week and another three today. It’s not good enough. We’ve got to be much smarter than that,” he said.
NRL legend Steve Roach said the effort was there for the Sharks but he didn’t hold back at the club’s abysmal use with the ball inside their own half.
“As they’re gathered behind the goal-line, they would be saying: ‘Come on boys we need to lift,” Roach said on Fox Sports’ commentary.
Crichton continues try-scoring run
“I don’t think they’ve played that bad it’s just the Panthers are at you every set.
“They keep turning the ball over to the Panthers in their own half.
“You’ve got to get up past your halfway line, put some pressure on them. Too many mistakes.”
The Panthers will be sweating on Kikau who was placed on report for a heavy hit off the ball on Braydon Trindall who stepped in to replace Johnson.
Morris said he was “crook” after that hit but the Sharks coach commended his effort.
“He’s a good player Tricky [Trindall], but only his second NRL game, playing the hottest team at the moment, he wasn’t able to play on the front foot,” he said.
Penrith now sit three points clear on top of the NRL ladder, and in coach Ivan Cleary sent a warning to the rest of the competition, hinting that there was still areas they needed to work on.
“There’s still things in there that we need to fix,” Cleary said post-game.
“I don’t mean to be arrogant or disrespectful to the Sharks, but we’re confident and doing a lot of things right, but there’s some little lessons tonight in our game, whether individual or a team that we can still improve on, and the boys know that.”