A strong showing either side of halftime has helped the Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks to a 42-22 victory over a struggling Parramatta Eels at Pointsbet Stadium tonight.
The return of Wade Graham and Nathan Brown was viewed as a huge opportunity for both sides - Cronulla were looking to maintain the pace with the top four, while Parramatta needed to continue the momentum set after last week's win over South Sydney.
It would be the Sharks and indeed the input of Wade Graham who set the scene - the second rower returning from the bench at the 35-minute mark of his side's Round 13 clash and having immediate impact.
Cronulla had dominated the opening proceedings, with tries to Bronson Xerri and a rampaging Andrew Fifita putting the home side up 14-0 (along with a 3/3 goalkicking record from five-eighth Kyle Flanagan).
But the Eels were looking likely after having wrestled momentum back, and a freaking Maika Sivo try reduced the margin to 14-6.
A lucky try would see the Sharks go to halftime ahead 20-6 after a knock-on was missed on an earlier play, but Parramatta only had themselves to blame after halftime as the returning Graham destroyed the blue and gold pack up the middle, making several breaks and sending multiple teammates into space throughout the second half.
Chad Townsend scored first after the break, capitalising on a strong start from the hosts, and the Sharks continued to turn their opponents inside out, Flanagan scoring his maiden NRL try near to the hour mark and Xerri claiming a double shortly after that and a 38-6 lead suddenly raised big questions over Parramatta's top eight credentials.
Thankfully for the handful of Eels fans who made the trek to Woolooware, they managed to wade against the tide, three tries inside the last fifteen minutes ensured their points differential didn't take a battering to the same extent it may have. Sivo claimed his second while two other backs - Josh Hoffman and Michael Jennings - were also there to bring a wry smile to the face of under-fire coach Brad Arthur.
A final try to Aaron Gray on fulltime ensured the Sharks finished 20 points clear of their opponents ahead of next week's trip to Canberra on Thursday evening. Parramatta head home to Bankwest where they'll host Brisbane.