CRONULLA 22 GOLD COAST 12
Colin Best's second half try was crucial to Sharks victory. Photo: Steve Christo
For a match that was meant to mean nothing, this match sure proved a lot. You had to look hard to find it but, when you did, the result might just have shown as much about Cronulla as any other in the season.
It was obvious in the work of five-eighth Chad Townsend, who stood to lose the most from Todd Carney's arrival at the club. In his first game of the season, due to a combination of Carney and a cracked sternum, Townsend rose to the challenge.
Sharks tower over the Titans
Titans - Jamal Idris makes a run. Photo: Steve Christo
As did Jeremy Smith, who was captain in place of Paul Gallen. The second-rower played after getting minimal sleep following the birth of his third child on Saturday morning. He said he would have played regardless of when his partner went into labour.
Previously, the Sharks have had players out of their depth, but these days, the club has reserve graders who can step up and look at home, not to mention the likes of Smith, who brought Gallen's inspiration.
The Sharks needed Smith and Townsend to step up. Both delivered and each scored a try to celebrate their respective milestones. In the past, taking Gallen out of the Cronulla line-up would be akin to telling a 100 metre sprinter that he has to race in a sack. Not yesterday.
''People stand up, given the opportunity,'' coach Shane Flanagan said.
The match, obviously, was missing much of its star power. Not only were the Sharks missing Gallen and Carney, the Titans were without an entire back row, as well as their injured captain Scott Prince. This was, really, a good advertisement for why State of Origins should be on stand-alone weekends.
The players produced a contest that belied both the wet conditions and the depleted line-ups, but that is missing the point. Supporters want to pay to watch, whether via the grandstand or subscription television, the best teams.
Having said that, Townsend wasn't complaining about the current system. It is the only reason he is waking this morning sore and weary after an NRL match.
''I was pretty grateful that I got my chance,'' he said. ''I really wanted to make the most of it.
''Obviously Todd's been in amazing form, and with him being out in Origin, I set myself that this could be the game that 'Flanno' could call me up. I was just happy that I got the game and we got the win.''
Townsend, who played 11 matches last season, started this year in NSW Cup before suffering the painful injury.
He played yesterday with a sternum guard that he will need to protect the area for the rest of the season, whether he is in the NRL or - perhaps more likely given the form of Carney, half Jeff Robson, as well as the club's other chief playmaker Wade Graham - plying away again in the lower-tier comp.
''We've always been confident that, once he gets his chance, he's a first-grader,'' Flanagan said.
Then there was Smith, who deputised admirably for Gallen just a day after the birth of Jeremy jnr.
''I always would have played,'' Smith said afterwards about the prospect of missing the match. In the conditions and with the players missing, effort was the key; and it was the Sharks who came up with the crucial ones.
Smith started the ball rolling with a 17th minute try, following Robson's neat around-the-corner offload. The Sharks were dominating the possession statistics, even if they were not quite doing the same on the scoreboard.
Their plan was to romp up the field through their forwards and then bomb the heck out of Titans fullback Jamie Dowling. He was an obvious target - a debutant fullback on a very wet day.
''It was a tough ask,'' coach John Cartwright said. ''It wasn't the best conditions for a young fella to make his debut at fullback, but he diffused a lot of their attacking kicks and he turned up in all the right places.''
Dowling certainly handled most of what was hoisted his way. Even when he didn't, he made up for his error. After dropping a Townsend bomb, he made the next two tackles for his team.
The Titans showed fight to haul themselves back into the contest at various stages of the game, yet the Sharks, with tries to Colin Best and Isaac De Gois in the second half, always had too much.
Which makes a change from having never enough.
CRONULLA 22 (C Best I De Gois J Smith C Townsend tries C Townsend 3 goals) bt GOLD COAST 12 (B Champion M Srama tries A Sezer 2 goals) at Toyota Stadium. Referee: Gavin Badger, Jason Robinson. Crowd: 8635.