Manly have continued to haunt Cronulla with the Sharks’ bogey side scoring an incredible 33-32 victory in golden-point extra-time to severely dent Cronulla’s top four hopes.
The sloppy Sharks blew a golden chance to climb level with stumbling St George Illawarra on the NRL table on Sunday as they overcame a frustrating first half to lead Manly by six points with seven minutes to play.
But a Daly Cherry-Evans field goal at the end of the first set of extra-time sealed victory for the under pressure Sea Eagles who are fighting to avoid their first wooden spoon in club history.
And fight they did. Despite occupying the cellar for most of the season, Manly somehow stole victory from the finals-chasing Sharks, the Sea Eagles’ 15th win from their last 17 games against Cronulla.
Sharks coach Shane Flanagan will be scratching his head wondering how his side lost this game. In truth, Cronulla were the better side for much of the match but lapses of concentration and ill discipline allowed Manly into the contest.
And when the Sharks did wrestle back the lead, they failed to kill the game.
It looked like it was going to be a long afternoon for the Sea Eagles when Cronulla took the lead inside four minutes.
It was way too easy for the Sharks, with a long Matt Moylan pass allowing Wade Graham to pop an inside ball for Valentine Holmes to stroll through and score. It was the Sharks No.1’s 18th try in his last 19 games to become the NRL’s top try scorer.
But Manly were able to hit back almost straight away.
A Luke Lewis error gifted Manly field position, with back to back penalties helping the Sea Eagles to Cronulla’s try line where young hooker Manase Fainu picked a smart short pass for Shaun Lane to crash over.
Cronulla looked to have taken back the lead when Ricky Leutele crossed, only for the try to be disallowed for an obstruction.
But the Sharks weren’t denied for long, with Wade Graham making the most of a sublime Paul Gallen flick pass to give Cronulla a 12-6 lead.
Again Manly fought back. Dylan Walker burnt Matt Moylan on the outside before holding off Leutele to score, with the video referee bunker overturning the on field decision of no try for a double movement.
Two minutes later the Sea Eagles took the lead. A flat Cherry-Evans pass allowed Lane to storm through a yawning gap to score under the posts.
It got worse for Cronulla with Aaron Woods, fresh on the field, paying the price for the Sharks’ persistent infringements as he was sent to the sin bin. Though video replays showed Woods may have been hard done by.
Manly extended their lead with a penalty goal but it was the only damage they could inflict on the Sharks with their numerical advantage. Though Manly’s 20 points were the most conceded by Cronulla in a first half this season.
Cronulla’s frustrating afternoon continued when they had a second try disallowed for another obstruction. But they were back in the game when Jesse Ramien scored a superb individual try on the stroke of half-time to reduce the deficit to 20-18.
The Sea Eagles needed just one minute to extend their lead after the break. Josh Dugan, back after missing seven weeks with a foot injury, saw Manly fullback Tom Trbojevic jump over the top of him to claim a high Cherry-Evans kick to score.
A Brad Parker error at the play the ball gave Cronulla a chance to hit back, which they took when Cherry-Evans failed to pick up a James Segeyaro grubber allowing Woods to touch down.
Chad Townsend paid the price for his costly missed conversion in the loss to Brisbane last week, replaced as Sharks goal kicker by Holmes. The fullback continued his perfect day with the boot with a penalty goal to level the score at 26-all.
And the Sharks finally took back the lead with 20 minutes to play, with Moylan stepping his way to the try line.
Holmes then missed the opportunity to give Cronulla an eight-point lead, pushing a penalty kick wide.
Manly bombed a chance to close the gap when Jack Gosiewski failed to touch down from a Cherry-Evans grubber.
But Joel Thompson wouldn’t make the same mistake, making Holmes pay for his miss with six minutes remaining, with Cherry-Evans’ conversion making it 32-all.
The Sea Eagles could have won the game in normal time. With the sun in his eyes, Holmes dropped a Cherry-Evans bomb under pressure from Tom Trbojevic.
That gifted Manly field position, but a poor set ended with Cherry-Evans dragging a field goal attempt wide under pressure from Townsend.
That sent the match to golden-point extra-time, with Manly only requiring one set to seal the game. Cherry-Evans showed incredible composure to fake to his right before slotting a field goal with his left foot to seal what could be a vital two points for the Sea Eagles.
Manly Sea Eagles 33 (Shaun Lane two, Dylan Walker, Tom Trbojevic, Joel Thompson tries. Daly Cherry-Evans six goals, field goal)
Cronulla Sharks 32 (Valentine Holmes, Wade Graham, Jesse Ramien, Aaron Woods, Matt Moylan tries. Valentine Holmes six goals)
after golden-point extra-time
at Southern Cross Group Stadium, Woolooware
Leader man of the match: Daly Cherry-Evans (Sea Eagles)
Sharks’ next three: Storm (away), Cowboys (home), Knights (home)