Ahead of the NRL resuming on May 28, Love Rugby League decided to look at some past matches between the third round match ups.
We now look at Cronulla Sharks v Wests Tigers in round 26 of the 2011 NRL season.
The Sharks had endured a disappointing season with far too many losing runs for their liking and they came into this final round on the back of seven consecutive defeats.
Their final victory, 26-12 over the Raiders, had actually been the last in a four match winning streak but would be the only time they would win more than two successive matches.
Unsurprisingly, their poor form affected crowd numbers too, with only 8,089 attending their previous home game against Canterbury.
On the other hand, the Tigers had overcome a difficult first half of the season where they sat in seventh place after a round 13 win over Newcastle.
Another win over the Warriors came but three successive losses followed as they slipped to ninth where it seemed their season was petering out.
However, Tim Sheens’ men then embarked on an extraordinary run on form and came into the final round after seven consecutive victories.
Cronulla 22-30 Wests
Sharks captain Paul Gallen was celebrating his 200th game for the club but it soon looked like it would turn into a nightmare as Wests flew into a 8-0 lead inside 10 minutes through Mitch Brown and Gallen’s counterpart Robbie Farah.
The home side eventually got a foothold and gained their first points with John Williams converting his own try but minutes later the Tigers restored their eight-point advantage.
Blake Ayshford drew his man and fed full-back Tim Moltzen on the inside but once again the Sharks would not lie down when Stewart Mills swooped after an eye-catching run and kick from second-row Jeremy Smith.
In a back and forth encounter, mercurial talent Benji Marshall gave Lote Tuqiri a stroll to the line as Wests led 20-12 at the interval.
Unsurprisingly, Gallen’s men hit back within two minutes of the restart when Smith crashed over from close range.
The Tigers, with fourth place up for grabs, continued the game’s pattern of play when Gareth Ellis’ superb offload allowed Farah to dive over and make it 18-26.
Once again, Cronulla hung onto the Tigers coattails with a neat short side move culminating in Williams sliding over with just under 10 minutes left.
However, Wests finally put their persistent visitors to bed as Farah plunged over to complete his hat-trick in the 78th minute.
This all-important victory guaranteed the Tigers a home qualifying final against the Dragons.
Cronulla: Stapleton; Mills, Collis, Best, Williams; Kelly, Graham; Snowden, Morris, Douglas, Smith, A Tupou, Gallen. Subs: Tagataese, Aiton, Cordoba, Pomeroy.
Wests: Moltzen; Brown, Ayshford, Utai, Tuqiri; Marshall, Lui; Gibbs, Farah, Woods, Fulton, Ellis, Heighington. Subs: Flanagan, Groat, Murdoch-Masila, McKinnon.
What happened next?
This defeat meant Cronulla finished a disappointing campaign in 13th place, only two points ahead of bottom-placed Gold Coast.
An inspired Marshall performance, with a try, three goals and a drop goal helped the Tigers advance 21-12 against St George Illawarra.
Their reward was a semi-final against the Warriors and Marshall, who ended as West’s top points scorer, crossed again and produced a flawless kicking display.
However, despite leading 18-6 at half-time, they conceded a 76th minute try to crash out 20-22.
This 2011 season remains the last time Wests played finals football – the longest run in the NRL.
By Sam Harris
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