Sharks complete miracle comeback
Battered, bruised and set for the deep fryer after one of the most of the most tumultuous years in a rugby league club's history, for the second successive week the Sharks have staged the mother-of-all second half comebacks to cause the biggest boilover of 2014, pinching a thrilling 30-28 win off a shell-shocked Roosters outfit at Allianz Stadium.
With three tries in the opening 15 minutes the Roosters had threatened to push the final margin up toward the official crowd figure of 10,732, but a stunning second-half revival, capped by a 78th minute four-pointer to halfback Jeff Robson, saw the Sharks record their biggest come-from-behind win just eight days after having come back from 22-0 against the Broncos last Friday night.
Thoroughly ruffled and ultimately cooked, the Chooks could only watch on in horror as the Sharks reduced a 24 point deficit to 28-24 when winger Jacob Gagan bagged his second four-pointer with only five minutes remaining, before Robson burrowed over from close range to give the visitors the lead with the clock winding down.
With just five seconds remaining, makeshift Roosters centre Mitch Aubusson was denied a match-winning third try despite dragging himself across the line, as video referee Steve Chiddy could not find sufficient evidence to overturn Gavin Morris's original on-field ruling of no-try, sealing a result that was paying over $9 with the bookies prior to kick-off.
Earlier the Chooks had wasted no time in opening their account after just four minutes, with Shaun Kenny-Dowall getting involved in the middle of the pitch to bust through some flimsy Cronulla defence, before slick hands from Nene Macdonald and James Maloney found Aubusson to streak away for an early 6-0 lead.
Just like Sydney's infamous buses, the tries followed one after the other for the premiers, with Sam Moa offloading in traffic from the very next set for Jake Friend and Mitchell Pearce to combine – Pearce promptly slicing through from 20 metres out to take a 12-0 lead after eight minutes.
Kenny-Dowall joined the party with a meat pie of his own in the 15th minute; again a long-range effort coming after Macdonald sped through a yawning gap in the Sharks ruck defence to keep the Roosters' tally ahead of the clock, while on the opposite flank Gagan had what looked to be a straightforward try disallowed for obstruction just minutes later.
The Sharks rallied briefly with repeat sets in Roosters territory and a long break by reserve prop Sam Tagataese, before Roosters winger Brendan Elliot resumed regular programming with a try on debut, crossing untouched on the half hour mark courtesy of an overlap exploited by inside men Sonny Bill Williams and Anthony Minichiello.
With halftime in the offing and the Sharks staring down a record fifth duck egg for the season, Wade Graham used every bit of cunning available to him to get his side on the scoreboard, impersonating opposite skipper Anthony Minichiello in calling for Pearce to pass just metres out from his own line, and strolling in for one of the more bizarre tries seen and a 24-6 halftime score line.
A long break from Ricky Leutele gave the Sharks prime attacking real estate immediately after the break, before young five-eighth Fa'amanu Brown sent a pinpoint cross-field bomb into orbit and ultimately into the arms of Jacob Gagan, who was not to be denied for a second try. Michael Gordon nailed the sideline conversion to drag the deficit back to 12.
Growing in confidence with every passing minute, only a magnificent try-saving tackle from back-rower Dylan Napa denied reserve Sharks prop Tim Robinson a four-pointer in the 50th minute, and at the end of the set Jeff Robson again put the ball into the air with success, Sosaia Feki this time flying high in the left hand corner to draw the Sharks to 24-18 and well and truly within striking distance.
Desperate goal-line defence from Gagan denied Elliot a brace just three minutes later, though Aubusson proved too strong from five metres out in taking a short ball from Pearce, and pushed the margin back out to 10 in the 57th minute.
With pressure mounting and errors creeping into both outfits – particularly the Roosters who completed at just 64 per cent in the second half – Gagan's second four-pointer, planted just millimetres inside the touch-in-goal line, and Gordon's third consecutive conversion from the sideline set up a thrilling final five minutes with the Roosters clinging to a 28-24 lead, before Robson's heroics trumped the efforts of Aubusson and secured one of the most remarkable wins in Cronulla's history.
Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks 30 (J Gagan 2, W Graham, S Feki, J Robson tries; M Gordon 5 goals) defeated Sydney Roosters 28 (M Aubusson 2, M Pearce, S Kenny-Dowall, B Elliot tries; J Maloney 4 goals;) at Allianz Stadium. Crowd: 10,732