A field goal shootout with the Canberra Raiders has ended in a devastating defeat for the Cronulla Sharks, who have set themselves up for a winner-take-all final round.
18,985 fans were out in full force on Sunday afternoon to farewell one of Cronulla’s favourite sons, but a trio of Aidan Sezer field goals have spoiled longtime Sharks’ skipper Paul Gallen’s final game in the Sutherland Shire, with the Raiders coming away with a pivotal 15-14 golden point victory. The Sharks jumped out to a 12-0 first half lead, courtesy of two tries to Ronaldo Mulitalo and a try to departing rake Jayden Brailey. However, poor goal-kicking was again the Sharks’ achilles heal, with Kyle Flanagan missing all three of his conversion attempts. Second-half tries to Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad and Nick Cotric levelled the scores at twelve, before a field goal shootout ensued. Raiders’ halfback Aidan Sezer struck first in the 66th minute, before Chad Townsend answered minutes later. Townsend put the Sharks up by one in the 76th minute, before Sezer returned serve in the following set. With just two minutes remaining in golden point extra time, Aidan Sezer slotted a game-winning one-pointer to break the Sharks’ hearts.
Paul Gallen was outstanding in his Shire farewell, running for 176 metres and making 41 tackles. Front-rower Aaron Woods had one of his best games since joining the Sharks, running for 172 metres and making 32 tackles in just 47 minutes of play, whilst rookie winger Ronaldo Mulitalo ran for a team-high 178 metres, to go along with six tackle breaks and a try-scoring double. It was the Raiders stars, however, who stood the tallest with fullback Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad running for an unbelievable 246 metres to go along with a try and a try assist and English import John Bateman finished with 198 run metres and 41 tackles.
The equation now for the Sharks is simple – beat the Wests Tigers on Sunday afternoon at Leichhardt Oval and the season stays alive or lose and start planning for Mad Monday. The winner of Sunday afternoon’s blockbuster will qualify for the finals, the loser will not. The Tigers are fresh off a 42-14 thrashing of the 15th-placed Dragons, with Benji Marshall, Luke Brooks, and Paul Momirovski putting on a clinic. Leichhardt Oval is one of Rugby League’s great venues and the atmosphere is set to be electric. It is a huge week for both clubs, who will be preparing for this clash with finals intensity and focus.