Paul Gallen inspires Cronulla Sharks comeback as premiers sink Canterbury Bulldogs

NRL dead during State of Origin? Just ask 20,497 people, wearing all different shades of blue and not worried in the slightest about a decade of interstate doom and gloom. A sellout at Shark Park when seven of the best weren't there. Who woulda thunk it?

The crowds might not be dead, but creativity is. Or was for the most part. There was no lack of intent. No lack of intensity. No lack of impact. Just a lack of ingenuity.

And that's what happens when almost half of Laurie Daley's side is sitting at Kingscliff rather than running out underneath King Wan.

But two men who might have - maybe should have - been worried about Origin on Wednesday night combined to lift the Sharks to an improbable 9-8 win over the Bulldogs on Saturday night after Chad Townsend's 78th minute field goal.

Yet that told little of the story.

Whether or not you agree with his perhaps tongue-in-cheek view he is still playing well enough to warrant selection for NSW if he was available, Paul Gallen makes a compelling case.

An impossible retrieval to deny a line dropout, followed by a weaving run from Queensland cast-off Valentine Holmes and a Gerard Beale dash on the next play produced a 100-metre, three-play try which levelled the scores inside the last 15 minutes. It was all down to the skipper.

And then a trademark fifth-tackle charge put Townsend in range to ice the win with just two minutes left, keeping the premiers just two points shy of table toppers Melbourne.

Why would Gallen just want to play for one more year in this vintage?

"You're probably right [we wouldn't have won without Gallen]," Sharks coach Shane Flanagan said. "They were two really big plays in particular he pulled off for us. Having Gal back during this [Origin] period ... we got something out of him tonight that's for sure.

"I don't think Gal needs to give anything back to the club. He's worked his butt off and tried hard every week, one of the most competitive people I've seen in my life. He's still good enough to play [Origin] and it's time to give someone else a crack. It will be hard for him on Wednesday night.

"The commitment and attitude is fantastic from the team."

On this evidence it won't be the last time a sellout is chalked up at Southern Cross Group Stadium. Remarkably, they made it the biggest home crowd for the Sharks since the local derby against the Dragons in 2012. And Gallen didn't let them down.

The Sharks were missing James Maloney, Andrew Fifita, Wade Graham and Jack Bird to Origin – yet still their skipper was attracting more NSW-related headlines given his concession he might have played on had he known the Sharks would have won last year's premiership.

And he tore into the Bulldogs forward pack with the similar ferociousness, which might have seen him avoid the fate of Robbie Farah and Billy Slater at the Origin selection table should he have been available.

"I find my job for this team really easy now," Gallen said. "It's really simple and if I get it done effectively I'll keep doing it.

"I don't have many regrets about Origin. I haven't missed the week to be honest. I'll miss the game. I still take a bit of pride in that NSW side. Bar Nathan Peats, I've had something to do with everyone there."

The Bulldogs had to muster enough to stop a mid-season slide without Josh Jackson, David Klemmer and Brett Morris, three players they could ill afford to be without at any stage let alone after an underwhelming fortnight.

And they might be without another for a period after James Graham trudged off after just 20 minutes with a nerve problem in his shoulder. He didn't return and will have to stomach a third straight loss during the week.

But in Brenko Lee the Bulldogs have a diamond - granted a rough one at times - perhaps emerging as a buy-of-the-year bolter.

After Holmes booted the Sharks to an early lead, there was plenty of punch yet little poise when it mattered as the host of Origin absentees eventually told in the red zones.

To his credit Townsend pillaged repeat set after repeat set, but still couldn't find the magic bullet when it mattered.

His opposite Moses Mbye found his though. In truth the Bulldogs' first try was little to do with the polarising No.7, but his early ball at least set Lee free to dip into his bag of tricks and as he sliced through from close range. Advantage Bulldogs.

If there was a lack of creativity in the first half, there certainly wasn't at the break as almost 2000 dancers flooded the field - undoubtedly contributing to the bumper turnout.

The Sharks found a little more inspiration after the break, but still couldn't breach a sterner Bulldogs wall. Debutant Francis Tualau clawed Jayden Brailey back from the line and Sosaia Feki was scrambled into touch with the tryline beckoning.

And while they couldn't engineer something deep in Bulldogs territory, their first significant incursion started behind their own tryline with a man who defies father time.

He made little metres then, a few more before the field goal and will make plenty more into the future. At least for as long as he wants to.


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