Cronulla Sharks finals hopes hang by thread after heartbreaking 19-18 loss to New Zealand Warriors

Cronulla's finals hopes are hanging by a thread after a heartbreaking 19-18 loss to the New Zealand Warriors on Friday night.

The Sharks lost their fifth game in a row in wet and slippery conditions in Wellington. Incredibly, it was the fourth time in their last five games that they have scored more tries than their opposition and lost the match.

Cronulla led for most of the night until Andrew Fifita was sent to the sin bin late on. A penalty to the Warriors allowed them to level the scores before Blake Green put the hosts in front with a field goal with five minutes to play.

The Sharks have now slumped to 11th on the NRL table and could slide to as low as 13th by the end of the weekend with seven rounds remaining.

There was no NRL debut for Cronulla Caringbah junior Billy Magoulias with captain Paul Gallen returning from a gluteal injury.

Matt Moylan also returned from his hamstring problem while Shaun Johnson was able to shake off an ankle injury to face his former club.

Aaron Gray though returned to Australia for treatment on a knee problem, with 19-year-old Ronaldo Mulitalo - who made his NRL debut earlier this season - coming onto the wing.

The Warriors opened the scoring with a penalty goal before Briton Nikora celebrated his return to New Zealand with his fourth try of the season after just eight minutes.

The 21-year-old, who made his Test debut for the Kiwis earlier this year, ran an excellent line after Chad Townsend and Johnson combined.

The Sharks were in again four minutes later with a crazy try. Moylan poked his nose through the Warriors line before slamming a pass back to Bronson Xerri.

The ball bounced off the young centre's chest but, before it hit the ground, Xerri batted the ball backwards for Townsend to race through and score.

The hosts hit back just past the midway point of the first half when Green showed great speed to dance around Moylan having backed up Issac Luke's superb solo effort out of dummy half.

From there it was all the Warriors for the rest of the first half. At one point they enjoyed five repeat sets against the Sharks but didn't look like cracking Cronulla's line.

The Sharks showed great desperation and commitment in defence to repel the hosts time and again. To illustrate their dominance, the Warriors were tackled 27 times inside Cronulla's 20 metre area compared to the Sharks' none in the first half.

A 39 per cent completion rate wasn't helping Cronulla, while the Sharks were also on the end of another lopsided penalty count. Many of the problems that have plagued them for much of the season - poor discipline without the ball and a lack of control with it - continued but their brave defensive effort kept them in the match.

The Warriors continued their assault on Cronulla's line at the start of the second half but the Sharks remained strong, only giving up another Luke penalty goal.

Cronulla then received a slice of good fortune, with Sosaia Feki scoring a controversial try in the 56th minute, though Nikora's final pass clearly appeared to travel forward.

The Sharks were out to an 18-10 lead before the Warriors again hit back. Cronulla will have been disappointed to have given up Kodi Nikorima's solo try having been so resolute in defence, with the Warriors halfback slipping through a number of Sharks' defenders to score next to the posts.

Cronulla continued to hang on before a terrible piece of ill discipline from Fifita cost the Sharks. The giant prop was sent to the sin bin for a late hit on Warriors decoy runner Lachlan Burr 20 metres out from Cronulla's line.

The resulting penalty allowed Luke to draw the Warriors level at 18-all with a penalty goal.

The Sharks were now on the ropes, with New Zealand enjoying all the possession and field position against the undermanned visitors.

And Green would make them pay, putting the Warriors in front with a field goal with five minutes to play.

Leader Scoreboard

New Zealand Warriors 19 (Blake Green, Kodi Nikorima tries. Issac Luke five goals. Blake Green field goal)

defeated

Cronulla Sharks 18 (Briton Nikora, Chad Townsend, Sosaia Feki tries. Shaun Johnson three goals)

at Westpac Stadium, Wellington

Leader man of the match: Blake Green (Warriors)

Sharks' next three: Cowboys (home), Rabbitohs (home), Panthers (away)

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