Cronulla have capped Andrew Fifita’s farewell to Shark Park with a 16-0 win over Canterbury to move into second spot on the NRL ladder.
A try-scoring double from Ronaldo Mulitalo and the opening try of the night from Briton Nikora were enough on Saturday as the Sharks romped to a fifth straight win in front of 11,500 fans at home.
Those Sharks supporters greeted Fifita, who announced this week this season would be his last with Cronulla, with a standing ovation in the second half and they could have another chance to see their 2016 premiership hero on home soil once more.
North Queensland’s 20-10 loss to South Sydney in Saturday’s later game ensures that Cronulla are now in the box seat to finish second as they sit two points ahead of the Cowboys with one round left.
North Queensland host minor premiers Penrith while the Sharks travel to struggling Newcastle next week.
A victory would guarantee Cronulla host their first finals fixture at Shark Park since 2008 after gaining permission from the NRL.
“It would be great (to get a home semi-final),” said Sharks coach Craig Fitzgibbon prior to the Rabbitohs’ win.
“It would be fantastic but we have to perform next week.
“It’s not the time to take our eyes off next week and give a better account of ourselves next week to make sure we’re ready to go wherever that is.”
There will be plenty for Cronulla to work on before next Sunday’s trip to face the Knights.
The victory was one of the ugliest of the year with Fitzgibbon’s side making 17 errors and completing at just 67 per cent after trying to chance their arm all too often.
“It was (a) toughly fought (game) and our defence was strong,” Fitzgibbon said.
“We had some simple fundamental errors that added up and made that error count look high.
“I don’t think we played the conditions and we went for high-risk stuff when we should have knuckled down.”
Cronulla looked to have arrested an ugly start when Nikora and Mulitalo scored in quick succession halfway through the first half.
The Bulldogs managed to wrestle back some control in the second stanza but when Mulitalo added his second of the night with a quarter of an hour to go the game was wrapped up.
Fifita was met with appreciation in the 68th minute – the same time he scored their winner over Melbourne in the 2016 grand final – before being introduced for one last stint.
Try as he might, the bullocking prop couldn’t cap his goodbye with a try.
Unfortunately, too, the Sharks didn’t get into a position to allow the Tonga forward to finish with a farewell kick for goal as his twin brother David did from the sideline with Super League side Wakefield earlier this week.
The Bulldogs lacked the fluency they had in the midway point of the season and interim coach Mick Potter is now winless in his past four outings.
“I was happy with our ability to defend our errors and we only conceded a few tries,” Potter said.
“It was a worry that we couldn’t build any pressure with our attack and we probably have two training sessions to do that.
“Every team studies you and you need to keep adapting and we probably haven’t moved forward each week.”