The Cronulla Sharks have all but eliminated the Canberra Raiders from finals contention after a 28-24 victory at Southern Cross Group Stadium on Friday night.
It was a horror start for the Raiders as they made an error on just the second play of the game before Jordan Rapana was sent to the sin bin for a professional foul shortly after. The Sharks were able to capitalise when Andrew Fifita broke through some soft defence to score next to the posts in the 9th minute. Ricky Leutele extended the lead to 12 after he pounced on an Edrick Lee offload following a slick backline movement. Canberra fought back to make it 12-6 through Brad Abbey but the Sharks would finish the half strong. Valentine Holmes stepped through the line to score in the 34th minute before Wade Graham muscled through three tacklers to make it a 22-6 lead at the break.
It was the perfect start for the Raiders in the second half when Blake Austin took a quick tap and offloaded it for Joey Leilua to score in the 41st minute before Leilua was in again just six minutes later to make it 22-18. However, the Sharks would extend their lead after a bizarre decision from the bunker, ruling a try for Sione Katoa despite an apparent knock on in the lead up and the touch judge raising his flag causing the Raiders players to stop. Jordan Rapana scored with three minutes remaining but the Raiders couldn’t pull off the comeback, the Sharks winning 28-24.
FLAG-GATE SINKS RAIDERS
With the scores at 22-18 and the Raiders holding all the momentum, the referees and the bunker impacted the game in a big way. Jesse Ramien appeared to get a touch to a cut-out ball, causing the touch judge to raise his flag to indicate a knock-on. He quickly put it back down and no call came from referee Bernard Sutton as Sione Katoa strolled over the line with all the Raiders left confused and at a standstill.
The bunker ruled that Ramien did not get a touch and it was ruled a try to extend the Sharks’ lead to 10. The Raiders, however, were left bemused after the involvement of the touch judge in the play, and ultimately that lead was too much to overcome. It changed the game and halted the momentum the Raiders had built, and has now ruined what was an otherwise exciting match.
ANOTHER BIG NIGHT FOR HOLMES
Opinions are split about whether Valentine Holmes belongs at fullback or on the wing but with another strong performance he is truly making fullback his own. He was outstanding tonight and arguably the Sharks’ best player, constantly threatening with ball in hand.
Holmes finished the night 221 metres, three line breaks, three tackle breaks and a try. If he can keep up this kind of form the Sharks will be a real threat come finals.
RAIDERS OUT OF FINALS RACE
It wasn’t without controversy, but this loss effectively ends any hope the Raiders had of making a late push for a finals berth. They once again sit six points outside the top eight and with just six games remaining that gap will most likely be too much to bridge.
It’s been a season of missed opportunities for the Raiders as they have struggled to close out games and been involved in a number of tight losses. There’s plenty to work on for coach Ricky Stuart as they prepare for 2019 and beyond.
SHARKS SWEATING ON GRAHAM INJURY
After a starring performance in the first half, Wade Graham did not take the field in the second half due to a groin complaint. It was apparently more of a precaution that he didn’t return but the Sharks know how important Graham is to their side.
Graham adds another dimension to their attack, a big forward who is also a skillful playmaker. If the Sharks are to be a legitimate threat, they need Graham to be fit and firing.
CRONULLA SHARKS 28
Tries: Andrew Fifita, Ricky Leutele, Valentine Holmes, Wade Graham, Sione Katoa
Goals: Chad Townsend 4/6
Drop Goals: n/a
CANBERRA RAIDERS 24
Tries: Joseph Leilua 2, Brad Abbey, Jordan Rapana
Goals: Sam Williams 4/4
Drop Goals: n/a
Cronulla Sharks: 1 Valentine Holmes, 2 Sione Katoa, 3 Jesse Ramien, 4 Ricky Leutele, 5 Edrick Lee, 6 Matt Moylan, 7 Chad Townsend, 8 Andrew Fifita, 9 Jayden Brailey, 10 Matt Prior, 11 Scott Sorensen, 12 Wade Graham, 13 Paul Gallen Interchange: 14 Joseph Paulo, 15 James Segeyaro, 16 Aaron Woods, 17 Jason Bukuya
Canberra Raiders: 1 Brad Abbey, 2 Nick Cotric, 3 Michael Oldfield, 4 Joseph Leilua, 5 Jordan Rapana, 6 Sam Williams, 14 Blake Austin, 8 Dunamis Lui, 9 Josh Hodgson, 10 Junior Paulo, 11 Iosia Soliola, 12 Elliott Whitehead, 13 Josh Papalii Interchange: 15 Luke Bateman, 16 Siliva Havili, 17 Liam Knight, 19 Jack Murchie