Warriors bow out as Sharks squeeze through
The Sharks have held on for a heart-stopping win against home crowd favourites the Warriors, prevailing 14-12 despite only scoring two tries to the Warriors' three to book a semi-final against the Roosters.
The Warriors surged downfield in a set full of intent from the opening siren to huge cheers from the crowd and it was that man Shaun Johnson again creating havoc, showing great vision to kick out wide to Manu Vatuvei who had a simple task of picking up the bouncing ball and stepping over the line.
The tournament hosts backed that up with great defence, holding out a set on their line after Cronulla's Blake Ayshford, continuing his fine tournament, produced a line break to get his side in range.
But a deft offload from Matt Prior to Chris Heighington at the line set up a bonus zone try and a 7-4 lead for Cronulla with just over two minutes to half-time.
Johnson did his best to spark something before the break, with a floating cut-out creating half a chance for Tui Lolohea, but Cronulla's Valentine Holmes was able to field the kick ahead and beat several defenders as he clawed his way back into the field of play.
It was left to young Warriors centre Solomone Kata, having an outstanding day with a brace of tries already to his name in the final pool match, to burst through from the midfield and streak away 50 metres to score next to the posts for an 8-7 half-time lead.
The Sharks were perhaps unlucky not to score shortly after the break, but Nu Brown opted to offload rather than go himself when he got into space near the line. But they were soon in anyway when Nathan Gardner produced some great footwork at close range and danced his way into the bonus zone, putting Cronulla up by 14-8 despite it being two-tries-apiece.
Sam Tomkins did his best to spark the Warriors with some threatening short kicks in behind the line and when he forced a drop-out Johnson provided the polish, firing a cut-out ball to Ngani Laumape who burst over out wide and had to run through and hurdle the advertising hoardings, such was his momentum.
A brilliant leaping bat-back from Manu Vatuvei after a towering kick-off was swallowed by Tomkins to earn possession back but a right-side shift came undone when Tomkins' pass to his winger couldn't be marked.
It left the Sharks with possession and a minute to defend. Tinirau Arona's ill-advised offload went to the Warriors who immediately received a pair of penalties but, needing a last-second miracle, Bodene Thompson spilled the ball as the Sharks celebrated passage to a semi-final against the Roosters.
Sharks skipper Wade Graham admitted his side may have been fortunate to get away with the win against a strong Warriors side.
"I actually think they were the better team for most of the game," Graham said.
"The format that the game is – we scored two in the bonus zone and kicked both, they scored three and missed them – but like I said luck probably went our way a little bit. During that game it favoured us a little bit."