With more than half their starting side sitting on the sideline, Cronulla were no match for an improved Canterbury side who thumped them 42-4 at ANZ Stadium.
The Bulldogs raced in seven tries to one against a Cronulla side without Paul Gallen, Beau Ryan, Luke Lewis, Andrew Fifita, Jeff Robson, Anthony Tupou and Siosaia Vave. Cronulla's night only got worse with forwards Matt Prior and Bryce Gibbs placed on report for high tackles. Wade Graham was assisted from the field late in the game too with a hip injury.
Fifita watched on as the club he joined next season cruised to a victory. While his $800,000 per season contract could make him the Bulldogs highest paid player for the next four years, his future teammates showed they wouldn’t relinquish their starting spots easily. Canterbury props Aiden Tolman and James Graham were again among the Bulldogs best. Tony Williams too received a rare round of applause from his home fans following a high involvement in an opening 55-minute stint in front of 12,057 people.
But it was the creativity of Canterbury halves which would have given coach Des Hasler the most satisfaction. Trent Hodkinson and Josh Reynolds laid on four tries in arguably their best performance as scrum base duo as the Bulldogs celebrated their first win of the season. Hodkinson claimed he and Reynolds needed to “step up” and they did, with Hodkinson finishing with a 18-point haul, scoring a try and kicking seven goals.
The 38-point winning margin was a record victory for the Bulldogs against the Sharks, taking over from Canterbury’s 38-2 win in 1986.
Cronulla weren’t without their opportunities – with their forwards laying a decent platform helping their side to good field possession. But without the class of Carney – who is expected to return in their next game – the Sharks lacked polish to complete their sets.
Where the Bulldogs had success with the ball was angling across the field and finding a willing runner on either the inside or outside of the ball carrier, searching for an isolated defender. Centre Chase Stanley was the beneficiary with angled running helping him cross for a first-half double. His first came from a Reynolds offload before scoring his team’s fourth try from a Hodkinson inside ball.
A Hodkinson bomb allowed Mitch Brown to climb above opposite Jonathan Wright to bat the ball back for co-captain Frank Pritchard to open the scoring. It was a bomb for Wright which presented Cronulla’s only genuine try-scoring opportunity of the first half, when he leaped above Brown to claim the ball, only to spill it as he crashed over the sideline.
Brown left the field later on with an ankle injury.
Hodkinson, Corey Thompson and Josh Morris scored second-half tries as the Bulldogs' defence held strong. The Sharks tried hard to cross the try line, but asked few questions of a Canterbury defence until Wright completed a backline movement to score on full-time.
Fill-in skipper Graham was among the Sharks best, while David Fifita could retain his place in a full-strength squad after a solid debut, as one of a trio of first-time NRL players for Cronulla.
The winless Sharks host an in-form St George Illawarra side while Canterbury travel to Penrith on Saturday.