Cronulla kept alive their hunt for a top four finish with a controversial 28-24 victory over Canberra on Friday night.
The Sharks skipped out to a 22-6 half-time lead on a chilly night in the shire before the Raiders rallied to reduce the deficit to 22-18 eight minutes after the break.
But their comeback was snuffed out in the 57th minute when Cronulla were awarded a try amidst confusion among the players and match officials.
Canberra set the tone for their night with the very first play of the game. Dunamis Lui was pinged for an incorrect play the ball, gifting Cronulla possession 10 metres out from Canberra’s line.
Things got worse for the Raiders in the fourth minute with Jordan Rapana sent to the sin bin. Canberra fullback Brad Abbey couldn’t handle a swirling Wade Graham bomb, with the Sharks scooping up the loose ball.
Rapana earned his 10 minute stint on the sideline for holding down the Cronulla player for too long.
The Sharks made the most of their numerical advantage to open the scoring in the 10th minute.
There was seemingly nothing on with the Sharks 10m out from Canberra’s line when Andrew Fifita, at his barnstorming best, charged over Josh Hodgson and slid over to score.
Cronulla were in again five minutes later. A slick shift to the left involving Chad Townsend and Matt Moylan saw Graham fire a cut out pass to Edrick Lee, before the giant winger found Ricky Leutele back on the inside to score.
The Raiders hit back against the run of play midway through the half.
A strong charge and quick play the ball from Joseph Leilua had Canberra on the front foot. Rapana scooped up the ball and made a break before finding Leilua in support who in turn passed to Abbey to score next to the posts.
Cronulla looked to have blown the Raiders away in the five minutes before half-time with two quick tries to take a 22-6 lead to the break.
Valentine Holmes made the most of a tidy Townsend pass to slice through before Graham showed great strength to barge over from dummy-half.
The Sharks lost Graham to a groin injury, with the representative back-rower unable to return after half-time. It was a cruel blow for Graham who has seen his season interrupted by hamstring and cheekbone injuries as well as suspension.
That set the tone for the Raiders to launch a fight back with two tries to Leilua inside the first eight minutes after the break.
But Cronulla were to snuff out the comeback with a controversial try to Sione Katoa midway through the half.
With the Sharks attacking Canberra’s line, a loose pass appeared to beat Jesse Ramien’s outstretched hand.
Referee Gerard Sutton appeared to put his whistle to his mouth when touch judge Rickey MacFarlane raised his flag before quickly lowering it.
The Raiders defenders paused waiting for the game to be stopped. But Katoa took advantage of the situation to race through and score having scooped up the loose ball.
Canberra had another tough call go against them with 10 minutes remaining, with a long Leilua cut out pass called forward with Abbey certain to touch down, despite replays appearing to show the pass flat at worst.
Rapana crossed in the corner with three minutes remaining to set up a grand stand finish but Cronulla were able to hang on.
Cronulla Sharks 28 (Andrew Fifita, Ricky Leutele, Valentine Holmes, Wade Graham, Sione Katoa tries. Chad Townsend four goals)
Canberra Raiders 24 (Joseph Leilua two, Brad Abbey, Jordan Rapana tries. Sam Williams four goals)
at Southern Cross Group Stadium, Woolooware
Leader man of the match: Valentine Holmes (Sharks)
Sharks’ next three: Broncos (away), Sea Eagles (home), Storm (away)