A Michael Gordon penalty goal in the final minute has given the Sydney Roosters a hard-fought 16-14 win over Cronulla – with the Sharks slipping outside the top four heading into the final round.
Sharks captain Paul Gallen was penalised for a leg pull on Roosters back-rower Boyd Cordner, with former Cronulla fullback Gordon slotting the penalty goal from 20 metres out to break the deadlock.
The Sharks looked like snatching victory in front of a bumper crowd at Southern Cross Group Stadium, coming back from deficits of 12-2 and then 12-8 at half-time to draw level at 14-all with seven minutes to play and the Roosters down to 12 men after Luke Keary was sent to the sin bin.
The Roosters snapped a run of six games without a win against the Sharks and scored only their second win in the shire since 2009.
The sides traded penalty goals in the opening stages before the Roosters took the lead when Isaac Liu barged over from close range.
The Sharks then lost Wade Graham midway through the half to injury, with the State of Origin back-rower failing to return from a badly corked right calf muscle. The Tricolours were out to a 12-2 lead just before the half hour mark when Blake Ferguson got on the outside of Ricky Leutele to touch down in the corner.
But Cronulla hit back shortly after when James Maloney rolled a grubber kick crossfield for Valentine Holmes to swoop through and score, diving to plant the ball down just short of the dead ball line.
The Sharks trailed 12-8 at half-time and bombed a golden chance to at least draw level 12 minutes after the break. A poor Maloney kick was fielded on the full in-goal to hand the Roosters a seven-tackle set. But Sam Tagataese rocked Ferguson in a tackle with the NSW winger handing possession back to Cronulla.
It looked like a swing of momentum but the Sharks weren’t able to take advantage as a Kurt Capewell error let the Roosters off the hook.
Another Gordon penalty goal extended the Roosters’ lead before the visitors bombed the chance to seal the result with 18 minutes to go. Mitch Aubusson sliced through and only had to hit Ferguson on the chest with his pass, only for the ball to sail out over the sideline.
There was a similar result 10 minutes from full-time, this time after Keary had made a bust down the right only for Ferguson to knock on from Keary’s bounced flick pass.
And the Sharks would make them pay from the next set. Maloney put in a poor short kick on the last tackle just short of halfway but the Roosters failed to deal with it, with Chad Townsend scooping up the loose ball to give Cronulla a repeat set.
Keary was sent to the sin bin two tackles later for attempting to slow down a Luke Lewis play the ball after a half break from the veteran back-rower. And from the next set the Sharks made the most of the one-man advantage as Lewis charged through a gap close to the line to score, with Maloney’s conversion leveling the scores with less than seven minutes to play.
Maloney then hit the post with a wobbly long-range field goal attempt, before Mitchell Pearce put a shot for the Roosters wide. But a Townsend knock on gifted the Roosters possession on halfway, with the Tricolours marching inside Cronulla’s 20 metre zone before Gallen gave away the penalty for the leg pull on Cordner as he attempted to slow down the play the ball.
Gordon’s penalty goal from just to the left of the posts was enough to give the Roosters victory and a spot in the NRL’s top two, leapfrogging Brisbane. With the Sharks slipping to fifth heading into their final round clash with Newcastle.
Sydney Roosters 16 (Isaac Liu, Blake Ferguson tries. Michael Gordon four goals)
Cronulla Sharks 14 (Valentine Holmes, Luke Lewis tries. James Maloney three goals)
at Southern Cross Group Stadium
Leader man of the match: Mitchell Pearce (Roosters)
Sharks’ next game: Knights (away)