Last Saturdays showdown between the undefeated Cronulla Sharks and the in-form Newtown Jets lived up to pre-match expectations, despite the teeming rain that drove away the anticipated big Henson Park crowd.


Both sides scored three tries each and only a goal separated them at full-time. Newtown led 12-6 at half-time but Cronulla took control in the third quarter to establish an 18-12 lead. The Jets scored their third try just five minutes before full-time but were unable to bridge the two-point gap, with the Sharks making it fifteen wins in a row through this 18-16 victory.


The heavy rain was certainly a great equaliser and so too were the demands of State of Origin II, with both the Jets and Sharks having players called up to their NRL partnership clubs (in this case to the Roosters and the Melbourne Storm, with Cronulla-Sutherland having an NRL bye). The playing surface at Henson Park held up very well but the pouring rain was bound to effect the players handling and make the final result somewhat of a lottery.


The Jets began hesitantly with an error from the kick-off but were in fact first to score, when prop Saulala Houma scored his tenth try for the season with another of his angled, barnstorming charges. Newtown then turned in a tremendous first half defensive performance, keeping the highest points-scoring team in the VB NSW cup scoreless until the 31st minute. The Jets were under sustained pressure for much of the first half, repelling the Sharks after they had forced no less than five goal-line drop-outs on Newtown. Ironically the Sharks first try came about through some poor Jets tackling, with the French international Tony Gigot converting the try from the sideline in difficult conditions. Newtown hit back in the 39th minute when second-rower Brad Barrett scored out wide. Jets winger Chris Taripo then proved he could also convert a try from the sideline in pelting rain.


Newtowns worst period of the game was the fifteen minutes after half-time, when the Sharks scored two converted tries and made it clear why they were the undefeated competition leaders. The remainder of the second half was a fierce struggle between two tough and determined teams playing in deteriorating conditions. Jets captain Tinirau Arona broke through to score with five minutes left to play, after the Jets had launched several assaults on the Sharks line. Taripos conversion attempt swung wide but the Jets desperately strove for the match-winning try right up to the final siren.


The Jets coaching staff praised their teams big-hearted performance in conditions that players only rarely encounter these days. The Jets had their chances to win the game but inexperience and handling errors caught them out in the games tense latter stages. The match was probably lost in that crucial period immediately after half-time when the Sharks had 35 plays with the ball to Newtowns 4 and they scored two converted tries in that period. The Jets defensive effort in the first half was a real performance benchmark for the team for future matches.


Jets hooker Kurt Kara had an outstanding game and set an example to his team-mates with his relentless tackling, and Brad Barrett also worked extremely hard. Josh Ailaomai, Saulala Houma and Ray Moujalli repeatedly gained their team valuable metres with their fearless charges into the thick of the Sharks defence. The loss of Kane Evans, arguably the competitions form forward, with an ankle injury was a real blow on a day when the weather conditions dictated that this would be a battle of the two forward packs.


The Jets travel to Sydneys south-west next Saturday to take on the Canberra Raiders feeder team Mounties, who have moved into the top eight with several impressive wins in recent weeks. The Mounties-Newtown match is on Saturday, 29th June, at the Mt Pritchard Sports Ground at 3.00pm.