ROCKINGHAM Sharks were edged out by the closest of margins in an arm wrestle of a game against South Perth Lions on Saturday night, going down 14-12 in their WA Smarter Than Smoking Premiership.
The Sharks came home with a wet sail in the final minutes as fullback Steve Widders brought the margin to within two points, but as time clicked away, the conversion to level the scores sailed inches wide of the uprights.
“That was a tough battle,” coach Darren Shaw said.
“We didn’t win, but at this early stage of the season, it was a fantastic game of rugby league and all credit to the Lions for hanging in there.”
The Sharks were slow out of the blocks and had to defend their line through four sets of tackles before the visitors eventually broke through, missing the conversion. But slowly the Sharks began to find their rhythm, even without influential playmaker and kicker Caleb Reedy, overseas on business, and injured forward Ben Bolth.
Halfback Benny Pyako uncharacteristically dropped the ball going over the line and a superb Anthony Bowman break ended when winger Connor Hudson could only finger-tip the ball away as the Sharks slowly forged their way into the game.
Missed or mis-directed kicks compounded the groans from the stands as the home side kept up late first-half pressure.
That pressure paid off a minute from the siren as Hudson took a superb flick pass from centre Geordie Connelly to cross the line.
With the conversion missed, the sides went into the sheds at the break at four apiece.
South Perth quickly gained the upper hand early in the second period, capitalising on a penalty and some dropped ball to take the lead again.
The conversion made it a six-point gap, but the Sharks showed they are the real deal this season and grand final candidates, as Widders made a 50m break through the middle to set up centre Dave Tuilola, who raced through to bring the deficit back to two points.
A penalty for a loose swinging arm was the Sharks’ downfall, however, setting up the Lions for another score 29 minutes into the second half.
The conversion kick sailed wide but the visitors again held the ascendancy with the time ebbing away.
Toe to toe, the two sides pushed each other up and back down the field, with the home side searching for the gaps to exploit a disciplined Lions defence.
With time running out, Pyako played a quick move and broke to set up Widders 20m out, with the fullback racing to the corner to close the gap to just two points again.
But, with time almost out, the kick from Pyako went inches wide and the game was lost.
Coach Shaw was happy with early season application. “You can’t fault the lads for giving it all. This was a battle, a tough battle for so early in the season,” he said.
Earlier, the reserves won comfortably 30-10 but an understrength 18s, missing several state players still recovering from NRL SG Ball competition, went down 54-30.
The Sharks have a week off as the NRLWA stages the annual Anzac game in Perth and the next game is against the Bulldogs on May 6.