Cronulla downs Brisbane in NRL nailbiter
Cronulla stopped a stirring Broncos comeback to beat Brisbane 30-28 Sunday for its sixth-straight win in Australia's National Rugby League while North Queensland matched its best start to a season to set up a four-way tie atop the table.
Melbourne made itself part of that top-of-the-table logjam when it beat Gold Coast 38-0, joining Brisbane, Cronulla and North Queensland on 14 points while Parramatta is two points back after beating the Bulldogs 20-12.
Cronulla achieved its first six-match winning streak since 2012, opening a 28-6 lead by halftime in Sunday's ninth-round match, then holding out a stirring Broncos rally in the second half.
Brisbane lost for the first time in seven games but was playing outside its native Queensland state for the first time since round three.
Cronulla scored early tries through Sosaia Feki and captain Paul Gallen to lead 10-2, then gave up a try to Jordan Kahu before re-establishing its momentum. James Maloney scored the Sharks' third try in the 26th minute, Feki added his second on the half hour and Chad Townsend touched down to complete a strong first half.
Brisbane turned the game around in the second half by taking charge at the ruck, leading to tries by Corey Oates, James Roberts and Sam Thaiday that cut the margin to two points. Cronulla's defense held firm in the final minutes and it is now well-placed as the league breaks for next weekend's ANZAC test between Australia and New Zealand.
Youngster Suliasi Vunivalu bagged a double as injury-ravaged Melbourne overwhelmed Gold Coast. Coach Craig Bellamy was forced by injuries to blood Vunivalu sooner than intended and the Fijian flyer has scored doubles in each of his first three games.
Melbourne was depleted by long-term injuries to Will Chambers and Billy Slater which were compounded by more-recent injuries to Young Tonumaipea, Marika Koroibete and Richard Kennar. Their rearranged backline still managed to score seven unanswered tries.
Bellamy said Vunivalu's debut "was forced on us to be honest. We knew he had a lot of ability but what he's shown is more than what we thought.
"He's only played about 20 or 30 games of rugby league in his life. He makes the hard things look easy at times and other times the easy things look hard."
North Queensland's 7-2 record, embellished by Saturday's win over an injury-hit Manly side, matches its best start set in 2006.
Kyle Feldt scored a double as the defending champions outscored Manly by six tries to three.
Parramatta stayed in fifth place after its win over the Bulldogs who are sixth. Canberra stayed in seventh, despite a 19-18 loss to eighth-placed Penrith.
The New Zealand Warriors turned around last weekend's 42-0 loss to Melbourne, and a week of internal turmoil, with a 26-10 win over St. George Illawarra.