Offload ... Anthony Tupou (left). Photo: Getty Images
IN RUGBY league, sometimes the oldest cliches are the best way to sum things up.
It was game of two halves. All credit to the forwards. Experience counts in the big games.
That final one was the most appropriate at Mt Smart Stadium in Auckland yesterday as the Sharks, welcoming back veterans Paul Gallen and Todd Carney, handed the Warriors an embarrassing 45-4 defeat.
The seven-try scoreline represents the Sharks' biggest victory over the Warriors, beating the 34-8 hiding they dished out at Toyota Stadium in 1997.
Indeed, a late try to Colin Best, denied by the video referee, and its conversion would have handed the Warriors their third-worst defeat of all time.
Victories as comprehensive as yesterdays by Australian teams are rare in Auckland. Before the game, the Sharks themselves were winless in Auckland since 2007.
Yet this is a young Warriors side and one markedly different from last year's grand finalists. And while players such as Shaun Johnson, Elijah Taylor and Ben Henry, represent the future of the club, their inexperience was telling.
At times, it was men against boys, with big forwards Gallen, Jeremy Smith and Andrew Fifita running riot in the middle of park.
Out wide, the likes of Best, John Williams and Carney, who kicked a perfect eight from eight plus a field goal, had virtual free licence to move, while the Sharks' kick-chase was sublime throughout. It was a long way removed from a Sharks side that has slumped over the past month. ''Every team hits a flat spot and so did we,'' said Gallen, who played 70 minutes in his return match.
''We got four or five injuries along when we did hit that flat spot.
''We're getting some troops back now and it's good [to be] back on the winner's list and give the team and club some confidence.''
That place in the winner's circle was obvious from early on, when Carney notched up a double within the opening 13 minutes, his first from a deflected Johnson grubber.
The Warriors have been a strong starting side over recent weeks, despite eventually losing games, and Sharks coach Shane Flanagan said a good start was crucial.
''We didn't want to give them an 18-point start or any start at home - I think it would have been too hard for us to come back,'' he said. The Warriors' attack looked blunt and when they lost stand-off James Maloney to a knee injury halfway through the first stanza, their attacking options seemed to dry up.
Perhaps the hosts' opening play of the second half summed things up best, when Kevin Locke kicked the ball straight out off the restart. Two sets later, Fifita would cross the chalk and the first of the 13,812-strong crowd started heading for the exits.
Carney, with able help from Jeff Robson, continued to orchestrate his back line expertly, ensuring Williams would bag a second-half double and Fifita would nab a second.
The dominant victory sends a clear message to the rest of the NRL: this is a Sharks team that deserves to be in the top eight and, with the likes of Gallen and Carney firing, could be a team to avoid in the play-offs. For the Warriors, their season is now effectively over.
A defeat to the Cowboys in Townsville should officially spell the end of it. The record defeat against the Sharks represented the nadir of Brian McClennan's coaching career at the club, something he admitted.
''We were too passive with our defence,'' he said.
''They were able to play at the speed they wanted and they picked us apart. That was our darkest day this year.''