Shane Flanagan was left to rue a number of missed opportunities in Cronulla’s hard-fought 21-12 loss to the Sydney Roosters.
The Roosters earned themselves a week off and a preliminary final date after edging the gallant Sharks in a see-sawing battle at Allianz Stadium.
It was a game that could have gone either way. It sat on a knife edge for more than 70 minutes before the minor premiers finally broke the game open late on.
The Roosters led 10-6 at half-time before Cronulla hit the front five minutes into the second half. The Tri Colours then scored twice in quick succession to lead 18-12 with 24 minutes to play.
The Sharks blew three golden chances to score tries with either the final pass going astray or the Roosters producing a moment of incredible defence.
Sosaia Feki almost scored a repeat of his fifth minute try in the first half only for Ricky Leutele’s pass to go behind him. Josh Dugan could have made the most of a Valentine Holmes break from a tidy set play in the second half, only for Holmes’ pass to again be slightly off the mark.
But the most frustrating was when Luke Lewis appeared certain to score next to the posts after a Chad Townsend grubber kick.
Lewis got to the ball first which had bounced up kindly into his arms. But as he fell to the ground, Latrell Mitchell somehow got back to force Lewis to lose control of the ball centimetres from the grass.
Flanagan was proud of his troops despite the tough result.
“Fantastic game. Fantastic effort from my blokes. We just didn’t nail those three opportunities. We’ve just got to nail them in big games and we just couldn’t today. We tried hard,” he said.
“It was a cracking game. I was really proud of the way they played. They worked their butts off. Semi-final football you need to nail those opportunities. We had three opportunities that we didn’t nail. They had some similar ones… they nailed them, that was the difference. It was a close game. But we’ve just got to go another road, it ends in the same spot.
“It was a big moment. It was unfortunate Luke didn’t get it down. Latrell got him from behind. they’re big moments, we didn’t come up with it and they came up with it. That’s how close these games are, you’ve got to nail those ones and we just weren’t good enough tonight.”
The Sharks had injury added to insult, with Wade Graham sent for scans after the match on a potentially season-ending knee injury.
Graham went into the game with a heavily strapped right knee, the same knee he suffered a grade one medial ligament strain in about six weeks ago.
Flanagan was hopeful the problem wasn’t too bad but conceded “those sort of things aren’t a week.”
Sharks captain Paul Gallen was unhappy with a pair of contentious decisions that went against Cronulla.
The first, a try to Cooper Cronk where Graham appeared to be obstructed from getting to a loose ball. The second, a soft penalty against Edrick Lee which led to a Roosters try just before half-time.
Cronulla will now return to Allianz Stadium to face an elimination semi-final against Penrith on Friday night.
If they can get past the Panthers, Cronulla will face a trip to Melbourne to face the Storm in a preliminary final.