7 Jun 2016

Cronulla Sharks return to top of NRL ladder

8:01 am on 7 June 2016

James Maloney calmly booted an 80th minute sideline conversion to give Cronulla their ninth straight National Rugby League win, a 20-18 victory over Canterbury at ANZ Stadium last night.

Cronulla Sharks and NSW State of Origin captain Paul Gallen.

Cronulla Sharks captain Paul Gallen. Photo: PHOTOSPORT

Ricky Leutele scored a 79th minute try, leaving Maloney the chance to return the Sharks to the top of the NRL ladder at the halfway mark of the regular season, and the NSW playmaker made no mistake before 10,081 fans.

On the back of an inspired effort from fullback Ben Barba, who had a hand in two tries and scored another, the Sharks reaffirmed their status as genuine premiership contenders against a gritty Canterbury Bulldogs outfit.

After Sharks winger Sosaia Feki was denied an early try, a scything run from Bulldogs playmaker Josh Reynolds in the 16th minute brought the game's first try on the back of a tremendous kick return from Will Hopoate.

Dogs No.9 Michael Lichaa then beat his opposite Michael Ennis in a foot race to chase down a Moses Mbye kick and the home side led 12-0 after 21 minutes.

Barba dropped the ball over the line in the 24th minute before Chad Townsend barged his way over three minutes later for the visitors' first try.

A brilliant offload from Cronulla centre Jack Bird laid on a try for his winger Valentine Holmes to cut the Dogs lead to two on the half hour.

That was before Sam Kasiano crashed over just short of the break for a half-time score of 18-10 to Canterbury.

NSW hopeful Wade Graham did his State of Origin selection chances no harm in a strong game, that included a lovely inside ball for Barba to scoot away for the second half's first try in the 57th minute.

Ricky Leutele was denied a try soon after.

The Dogs, led strongly up front by skipper James Graham and David Klemmer, couldn't trouble the scorers after half-time.

The Sharks enjoyed the better field position in the latter stages before Leutele slid over out wide to set the scene for Maloney's match-winning conversion that skimmed off the post and over the crossbar.

Lichaa left the field with a hamstring injury in the 60th minute and didn't return.