Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan has taken aim at the consistency of referees after a 79th minute penalty saw the Sharks slip outside the NRL’s top four with a 16-14 loss to the Sydney Roosters.
Sharks captain Paul Gallen was penalised for a leg pull on Roosters back-rower Boyd Cordner after Gallen had made a clean tackle around the legs with the Tricolours on the attack deep in Cronulla’s half. Match officials ruled Gallen held on to Cordner too long, with former Sharks fullback Michael Gordon slotting the match-winning penalty goal from 20 metres out.
Cronulla hard charged back from 12-8 down at half-time to level the scores at 14-all with seven minutes remaining, with the Roosters also down to 12 men with Luke Keary sent to the sin bin.
Flanagan said it was hard to take.
“I’ll have to look at it a bit closer but [Cordner] didn’t get to his feet to play the ball. Gal made a legs tackle. If that’s Andrew Fifita I know what’s happening there. It’s a scrum or… [it’s] very, very frustrating. I don’t believe it was a penalty. If anything it was a scrum to us. That’s the way it goes,” Flanagan said.
“We put ourselves in that position. We didn’t get to a kick, we dropped the ball at a really important stage. But I still don’t think it was a penalty. We just watched it in the dressing room then. There’s a couple of them during the whole game and they go the opposite way.
“It’s a tough one but in my view it was not a penalty.
“We’ve just got to deal with the cards we’re dealt with. We went close tonight and it could have gone the opposite way. It didn’t. We just need to move on. It’s next week, we’re in the finals. Wherever we come we’ll turn up and play and we’ll give it a real crack.”
It was a brief 200th NRL appearance for Wade Graham, with the State of Origin representative forced off with what Cronulla hoped was a deep cork to his lower right leg. Flanagan said Graham would be sent for scans on Saturday night.
Gallen was equally disappointed with the decision but said Cronulla only had themselves to blame after a series of poor fifth-tackle options and a dropped ball that gifted the Roosters possession cost the Sharks.
“It’s one of those ones that can go either way. It was put down as a leg pull. There’s no evidence of a leg pull. I definitely didn’t pull his leg. I would have done the same thing, I would have tried to milk it. Whether I would have got away with it or not is another thing. It went his way that time and they got the win,” Gallen said.
“But as Flano said we shouldn’t have been in that position. We had a seven-tackle set and we dropped the ball. [Andrew] Fifita slipped over. It’s just one of those things where everything went their way for that play and unfortunately for myself and for us it was the most important play of the game. It’s cost us.”
The Sharks are now outside the top four heading into the final round. They travel to Newcastle to face the Knights next Sunday, needing Parramatta to have been beaten by South Sydney on Friday night to have any chance of finishing fourth and securing an away qualifying final against Melbourne.
If Penrith end St George Illawarra’s finals hopes on Sunday, Cronulla would slip to sixth. Though a fifth or sixth-placed finish would earn the Sharks a home elimination final – likely to be played at Allianz Stadium – in week one of the finals.