Cronulla skipper Paul Gallen made 250 metres from his 22 hit-ups during Saturday night’s 32-14 victory over Parramatta but none were as crucial as his three carries in the 90 seconds that followed half-time.

With the Eels in front 14-6, Gallen returned the kick-off then made another strong charge into the jaws of the Eels defence and, with his third hit-up, put the Sharks on a victorious course by crashing over the try line.

The Sharks captain hosed down his role in sparking the victory with the try, saying “it just sort of happened” but coach Shane Flanagan told a different tale. “I reckon [he led the way] in the first half, too,” Flanagan said.

“There wasn’t too many in the first half who did it with him – [they] wanted to try and get through it without too many bumps and bruises – but Gal wasn’t one of those.

“In the second half everyone muscled up and did what we expected them to do in this competition and we got away with the points.”

Parramatta displayed grit and hunger in the opening half and won praise for the way in which they fought for the ball and threw themselves into the game. They seized control with some committed play.

In the fifth minute, from a scrum win near their own line, centre Ryan Morgan sliced through Ben Pomeroy and Nathan Stapleton, pinned his ears back and found winger Ken Sio, who opened the Eels account. Sandow’s kick extended the surprise lead.

The Eels fought to maintain their dominance. It was a non-stop desperate scramble as winger Brayden Williame frustrated an ominous Sharks back-line movement by spiking the ball like a beach volleyballer in his attempt to intercept it.

Halfback Chris Sandow managed to knock Sosaia Feki over the sideline as the winger homed in on the corner with the ball bouncing about like a Mexican jumping bean metres away from Parramatta’s try line. Backrower Matt Ryan beat a pack of Sharks to the punch and padded it back to Ryan Morgan, who grabbed it like a drowning man might a rope.

Cronulla managed to score through Jeff Robson but the Eels responded swiftly and sharply through Williame eight minutes before the break. Sandow’s kick from the sideline was straight and true – and the Sharks fans, aware of their team’s poor record of only one win from their previous four games against Parramatta, were silent.

In the 38th minute, Sandow extended the lead to 14-6 when he kicked a penalty goal after the Sharks were penalised for an attempted strip on Lussick. Gallen pinpointed the option for “the two” as a sign the visitor’s couldn’t win.

“I thought the turning point was when they took the two points [just] before half-time,” he said. “I thought that was a bit negative by them because we were under the pump. “I said to the boys on the field, ‘That’s the win we needed.’ I knew if we held the ball we’d win and that’s what we did in the second half.”

The Sharks left Parramatta shell-shocked. As Robson bagged a second try, John Morris and then Stapleton scored, but few played better than Beau Ryan, who was outstanding – and brave – at fullback. It must have felt like a nightmare revisited for Parramatta coach Ricky Stuart, who ended his tenure as Cronulla’s coach in 2010 frustrated by similar efforts to those he saw in the last 40 minutes at Shark Park last night.

“It’s been a real problem all season – outside probably three or four games – that we don’t go for 80 minutes. It’s not physical,” Stuart said of the team’s effort and attitude.

“We have to keep working hard to better ourselves … “At half-time we were well and truly in it; we were probably the better team. But it’s unacceptable, the second-half performance.”

CRONULLA 32 (J Robson 2 P Gallen J Morris N Stapleton tries T Carney 6 goals) bt PARRAMATTA 14 (K Sio B Wiliame tries C Sandow 3 goals) at Sharks Stadium. Referee: Jason Robinson, Adam Devcich. Crowd: 11,055.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.