Cronulla have ended a run of 10 successive NRL home defeats with a comfortable 22-6 win over a disappointing Newcastle Knights side at Remondis Stadium.
In a match played in driving rain on a wet and windy Sydney evening the Sharks followed up last Sunday’s win over the Sydney Roosters to claim two points in front of their home fans for the first time since round eight of the 2014 NRL season.
The Sharks laid the foundations for the win in the opening stanza with tries from Jack Bird and Luke Lewis in front of a crowd of 10,054.
Fresh from his two-try starting debut success against the Roosters, young five-eighth Bird was once again in the thick of the action early in the game.
With the score tied at 2-2 after the sides exchanged penalty goals Bird blew the game open in the 20th minute by starting and finishing the move that yielded the opening try.
The 20-year-old bounced off two tackles, spread the ball wide to Ricky Leutele who fed Sosaia Feki and the winger found Bird in support, he then raced his way to the line.
Lewis added a second on the half-hour mark after Bird’s flick pass released Gerard Beale and Valentine Holmes’ precise chip kick bounced favourably for the NSW back-rower to score.
Sharks coach Shane Flanagan waited until the stroke of halftime to introduce Barba from the bench in place of Michael Gordon with fullback Holmes switching to the wing.
That decision was vindicated when the former Canterbury and Brisbane star scored one of the easiest tries of his career from close range after the break with the Knights defence failing to react to Jeff Robson’s high kick.
The Knights finally crossed for a four-pointer 11 minutes from time when Akuila Uate become the first Newcastle player to score a century of tries.
However, from the resulting kick-off former Sharks prop Kade Snowden allowed the wet ball to slip through his fingers and after successive line drop-outs veteran forward Chris Heighington powered over to score.
Barba’s impressive cameo ended on a sour note when he limped off four minutes from the final siren after injuring his left ankle following a crunching tackle from Chris Houston.