Cronulla have mounted a gutsy comeback to notch a club-record 12th straight win and rub salt into Parramatta’s wounds with a 34-24 NRL victory.
In front of a fervent capacity crowd of 19,142 on Saturday night at Shark Park, Cronulla came back from an 18-0 deficit to retain top spot on the ladder.
The Sharks entered rarefied air as only the fifth side in the NRL era to win 12 on the trot and maintain their billing as the team to beat.
The Eels elected to play Semi Radradra, despite the Australian Test winger being charged with domestic violence offences during the week, and he had limited involvement and was booed every time he touched the ball.
With the loss, the Eels face having to win each of their last nine games to reach the playoffs, with the club’s 12-point salary-cap penalty due in coming weeks.
The Sharks’ State of Origin prospects Ben Barba and Wade Graham both played strongly to put themselves in contention for game three.
While all eyes were on Radradra going into the match, it was the Eels’ right-side winger Bevan French who starred with a hat-trick.
He posted a double inside 12 minutes as the away side took a shock 18-0 lead before the Sharks fought their way back to trail by just two points at the break.
The Sharks’ left side of Sosaia Feki and Ricky Leutele ran riot and, when Barba put Leutele over for his double four minutes after the resumption, Cronulla had the lead for the first time.
Gerard Beale’s second try in the 69th minute extended their advantage and a scintillating solo effort by French set up a grandstand finish.
The Eels’ goalline defence was gallant in the second half but could not hold out the Sharks with Feki’s second on fulltime sealing it.