CANBERRA were left ruing the one that got away, while the Sharks were simply happy to have warmed up their throats for another rendition of 'Up, Up Cronulla'…
The loss could well signal the end of Canberra’s season – it’s hard to imagine that they will be able to recover from some of the defeats they’ve suffered recently. In recent years they have relied heavily on a dominant record at home, but they haven’t been able to replicate that in 2009. And it will hurt them.
But what of Cronulla? Do they dare to dream? After three wins on the trot is a finals spot really back on their agenda? It’s fanciful, but as long as they keep winning…
Canberra charged out of the gates. A huge effort from NSW Origin hopeful Tom Learoyd-Lahrs in the fifth minute put them on the scoreboard, and both teams traded tries until just before halftime when New Zealand back-rower Bronson Harrison escaped the grasps of Mitch Brown to give the Raiders a 14-10 halftime lead.
The first try of the second half was to be all-important, and Dave Furner would have been out of his seat when David Milne charged into a gap and gave the ball to Terry Campese, before the NSW five-eighth offloaded to rookie Jared Croker who scored the try and got the home side off to the best possible start.
At 20-10 the Raiders appeared to be in control of the match but a wicked bounce and an unlikely try turned the game on its head.
The Game Swung When… The pink ball took a miraculous bounce from Scott Porter’s 60th-minute cross-field kick. The kick looked certain to find touch – only to do an incredible shift and bounce into the arms of winger Luke Covell.
Covell, as shocked as anyone at the ground, regained his composure to put young centre Matt Wright into space. Wright then dished it off to Ben Pomeroy who scored the crucial four-pointer with his first touch of the game! Canberra had all the momentum up until that point, but from then on it was Cronulla who looked to have the upper hand.
Who Was Hot… After a few weeks of being shown up by the young fellas, it was a couple of Cronulla’s older guard who shone this round.
Paul Gallen has endured plenty in the past few weeks – overcoming a shoulder injury, racism drama, losing the captaincy and missing out on Origin – but he came up with the goods when it mattered in this game.
Gallen damaged his shoulder again early in the second half but charged on, making 37 tackles and scoring two barnstorming tries. Barrett was all class and stamped himself on the game early – his kicking game consistently put Cronulla in a strong position and he certainly put himself in the frame for a NSW call-up.
On the other side of the ground, Terry Campese (three try assists) and Tom Learoyd-Larhs (153 metres, a try, three tackle-breaks) were fighting a lone hand for the Green Machine.
Who Was Not… Aside from Campese and Learoyd-Larhs, the Raiders did not have a great amount to cheer about. Marc Herbert looked out of his depth, Alan Tongue’s service from dummy-half wasn’t of NRL standard and both Scott Logan (48 metres) and Troy Thompson (46 metres) struggled to make inroads.
For Cronulla, the experiment of using Mitch Brown off the bench must surely be a short-lived one – the centre/winger had no impact, missed tackles, made a mistake and gave away a penalty.
Had To Be Seen To Be Believed… The first two kick-offs sailing out on the full. How do they do it? With such a wide open space to aim at, players still somehow manage to push the boundary just a little too far and end up giving up 60 metres of field position.
Impressive, however, were the spectacular drop-out efforts from Terry Campese and Luke Covell; Campese thumped his first drop-out 58 metres before it bounced but not to be outdone, Covell launched his first more than 65 metres where it was caught by the Raiders.
Bad Boys… Trevor Thurling was placed on report for attacking the legs of Scott Porter after a kick in the first half.
Refs Watch… Canberra have every right to feel more than a little peeved at the officiating, after seeing a number of highly questionable decisions go against them. (Just how the men in pink saw a knock-on from Campese in the 16th minute beggars belief.)
Still, Cronulla thoroughly deserved the victory and despite the mistakes, Canberra only had themselves to blame.
NRL.com Best & Fairest… 3 points – Paul Gallen (Sharks): Finished the game with a busted shoulder but still came up with the match-winning try. Another epic effort from the former skipper – 91 metres, two tries, 37 tackles and a whole lot of respect earned; 2 points – Trent Barrett (Sharks): Kicked a timely 40-20, set up another try, conducted the attack all game and was putting players into gaps; 1 point – Tom Learoyd-Lahrs (Raiders): Along with Terry Campese, one of the few Raiders who looked comfortable out there. The Origin hopeful made 153 metres and scored a try. Very damaging.
Sharks 24 (P Gallen 2, N Stapleton, M Wright, B Pomeroy tries; L Covell 2 goals) def Raiders 22 (T Learoyd-Lahrs, J Monaghan, B Harrison, J Croker tries; T Campese 3 goals) at Canberra Stadium. Crowd: 10,104.