Sharks v Bulldogs: Five Key Points
Experienced players step up as the Sharks rally to steal 9-8 win over the Bulldogs in front of a sell-out crowd at Southern Cross Group Stadium.
Heading into the clash without four of their key personnel due to State of Origin duty, the Sharks needed to be led strongly by experienced campaigners Paul Gallen, Luke Lewis and Chris Heighington and the trio did not let their teammates down.
Along with Gallen's late heroics to escape the in-goal before breaking through the middle prior to Chad Townsend's field goal, teammate Lewis pounced on a Moses Mbye kick and raced 50 metres up the field to swing momentum back the Sharks way late in the game.
The effort of Heighington may have gone unnoticed due to the emotions at full-time, but the 35-year-old ran for over 138 metres in only 29 minutes on the paddock after filling in at prop for the loss of Andrew Fifita to Origin duty.
Sharks coach Shane Flanagan praised Gallen's performance.
"They were two really big plays that he (Gallen) pulled off for us in particular and we got something out of him tonight that's for sure," Flanagan said post-game.
"He tries that hard every week and is one of the most competitive people I've ever seen in my life.
"We reaped the benefit [of his retirement from Origin] tonight."
Bulldogs lacking halves direction
Call it inexperience or lack of possession; the last play options from the Bulldogs were off, particularly in the second half when the game was on the line.
At this stage of Moses Mbye's career, it is no secret as to why the Belmore outfit are missing a player of Josh Reynolds' experience short-term and have chased a player like Kieran Foran for next season.
Bulldogs coach Des Hasler admitted a few things let the side down.
"Our kicking game was a little bit ineffective in the second half," he said.
"I thought in most facets of the game we competed better, but the result is on the scoreboard in the end."
IT'S a battle for the title of Best in the West when rivals the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs and Penrith Panthers unleash at ANZ Stadium.
Sharks v Bulldogs fixture a hit
The Sharks and Bulldogs had not met each other at Southern Cross Group Stadium since 2011 but the crowd looked more like a local derby.
It may have been a fantastic marketing scheme to combat one of the toughest weeks to encourage fans to head to a game with the Sharks inviting over 1,800 children onto the field at half-time as part of a dance spectacular performance.
Despite both sides being depleted, the full house sign went up before gates opened and the Sharks notched up a crowd figure of 20,497 - only the ninth time in the venue's history the figure was over the 20,000 mark.
Flanagan noted the impressive turnout.
"Maybe the NRL should give us a Saturday night every week, I know the club would be happy," he said.
"It was fantastic and the players love that."
Positive "start" for Fualalo
While he is already 25 games into his NRL Telstra Premiership career, Bulldogs forward Danny Fualalo looked strong in his first game in the starting 13 for Des Hasler's side.
The 22-year-old racked up over 128 metres in a 74-minute effort with 43 tackles after replacing Australian international and NSW Blues forward David Klemmer in the lock position.
It was the highest amount of minutes Fualalo has enjoyed since making his debut in 2015, with his previous a career-high 46 last season, and as a result he churned out a strong performance in a beaten side.
Holmes shrugs off Origin snub
From playing for Australia three weeks ago to being snubbed by Kevin Walters and the Maroons hasn't stopped Sharks fullback Valentine Holmes from producing the goods for his club.
Flanagan admitted post-game that Billy Slater's omission from the Queensland side helped the 21-year-old also deal with not being selected.
"Young blokes these days brush those [non-selections] off and get on with it," Flanagan said.
"I know he wants to play for Queensland but the non-selection of Billy Slater eased the pain for Val a little bit.
"He came up with some plays similar to Gal there and played busted in the last 10 minutes.
"He's getting better each week and some of those runs got us into position to kick that field goal."