The Roosters have broken their three-game losing streak with a desperate 24-18 victory over a gallant Sharks side in front of a 12,163 people at Remondis Stadium on Saturday night.
Not even the surprise return of skipper Paul Gallen was enough to stop Cronulla falling to their sixth loss in seven games, as Origin duo Mitchell Pearce and James Maloney – plus gun winger Roger Tuivasa-Sheck – led the Roosters to a much-needed victory.
But it was the home side that drew first blood through a stunning piece of individual brilliance from centre Ricky Leutele, who will one day tell his grandkids that he once stood up the almighty Sonny Bill Williams.
Receiving the ball on the halfway line, the fourth-year prop left the dual international clutching at air with a skip-and-go before stepping fullback Anthony Minichiello, wrong-footing Pearce, and then beating Aidan Guerra and Tuivasa-Sheck to the tryline.
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Fullback Michael Gordon added the extras for an early 6-0 lead and the home side were off to the perfect start.
But it took the defending premiers just five minutes to respond through an attacking set that began with Tuivasa-Sheck at fullback. The Roosters needed just two power plays up the middle before the fullback-in-waiting isolated second-rower Boyd Cordner with Todd Carney to send the NSW back-rower over for a simple try. Maloney converted and the game was level at the quarter mark.
But if Tuivasa-Sheck's first try assist was all textbook, then his second was all street play.
A Todd Carney chip-and-chase that clean bowled Minichiello in the 23rd minute ended with the Kiwi prospect cleaning up 15m out from his own line, stepping past three defenders, before executing a 360 pirouette that would've earned a perfect score from an Olympic judge. From there it was all academic, offloading to a supporting Maloney who raced 50 metres untouched.
It was the kind of highlight reel moment that prompted commentator and former Test star Scott Prince to say, "It must be a dance floor out there!"
All of a sudden the Roosters were the only side dancing to the beat, carrying all the momentum – and the penalties – as they camped themselves in Sharks territory for the rest of the half.
But led by inspirational skipper Paul Gallen, not only did the home side hold on but they could've tied the game at half-time on a Melbourne Storm-like inside-outside play that put Gordon into the backfield, only for the former NSW winger to bomb a two-on-one chance.
Upon the resumption, however, Cronulla were able to convert their gritty defence into points when second-rower Wade Graham brushed two defenders and crashed over one play after a Blake Ayshford bust on the right edge. And when Gordon levelled the match with the extras, the Remondis crowd awakened.
From there it was open slather, a salivating recipe of hard running, open football that included two Roosters tries denied by the referee – a SBW one-on-one steal knocked-on in the 49th and a Jared Waerea-Hargreaves attempt in the 59th.
In fact, the sides went toe-to-toe and end-to-end for most of the second half and even traded tries on mis-kicks from either team.
In the 61st minute, a Carney cross-field kick went unchallenged by Sharks players, allowed Shaun Kenny-Dowall to race 90 metres to score under the posts.
But that effort was then matched by a Roosters attacking kick that went dead in the 67th, giving Jonathan Wright a quick tap on the 20m line where he took full advantage of a retreading Roosters defence that never recovered and ended with Sosaia Feki touching down, and Gordon again tying the game.
The free-wheeling match was finally decided on a clutch Pearce play in the 71st minute, the NSW Origin halfback first placing a cross-field kick that was knocked back, before regaining the ball and firing it out to an open left edge where Michael Jennings put Kenny-Dowall over for the match-winning try.Sydney Roosters 24
(Kenny-Dowall 2, Cordner, Maloney tries; Maloney 4 goals) defeated Cronulla Sharks 18
(Leutele, Graham, Feki tries; Gordon 3 goals). Crowd: