Maloney field goal sinks Warriors in golden point
An 87th-minute field goal to James Maloney has handed the Cronulla Sharks a club-record equalling 11th straight win with a stunning 19-18 victory over the Warriors on Saturday night.
For the third match in a row, Maloney's right boot proved the difference as his field goal in the second period of golden point broke hearts across the ditch.
After Michael Ennis had made a scything run out of dummy-half two plays earlier, the NSW Blues five-eighth stepped past two defenders before snapping an angled one-pointer to send the 12,074 fans at Southern Cross Group Stadium into hysterics.
It might have gone to sudden death golden point but both teams played with a reckless abandon that made for some of the most attractive – albeit nerve-racking football of the year.
It was an agonising way to lose for the Warriors after they fought back from 18-10 midway through the second half to force the game into extra time.
It was a game full of talking points with Andrew Fifita having a monster game after backing up from State of Origin, while Simon Mannering made a whopping 66 tackles for the visitors.
After almost conceding a penalty try last week, the Warriors weren't so lucky this time around with Jayson Bukuya awarded a try after being held back by Mannering while chasing an Ennis grubber in the 48th minute.
The Sharks interchange forward looked certain to reach the rolling ball first before being interfered with close to the try-line.
Earlier, having sent two kicks dead in goal already, Chad Townsend's luck ran out when another poor final-tackle play gifted the Warriors a third seven-tackle set.
Filling in for Tuimoala Lolohea at fullback, David Fusitu'a broke through the attempted tackle of Ricky Leutele, looked outside but passed inside to former Shark Blake Ayshford to score after 22 minutes.
The Sharks almost hit back from their next set when Ben Barba streaked away off a Fifita offload, only for the bunker to overturn the live decision of try due to a double knock on.
Instead, it would be the Warriors who crossed next, and again the try had a very distinct Cronulla flavour to it with Jonathan Wright finishing off some brilliant lead-up play from Johnson, Thompson and Ayshford to punish his former side.
After the Warriors went agonisingly close to grabbing a third, the Sharks finally broke through after Ennis punished some over-eager defenders close to the line to dummy and pirouette his way over; his 'selfie' celebration questionable at best.
Having trailed for the majority of the half, the Sharks somehow hit the lead in the shadows of half-time after Ricky Leutele did his best 'Inspector Gadget' impression to reach out and slam the ball down.
The visitors should have reclaimed the lead five minutes into the second stanza but Wright lost the ball cold with the line wide open.
It would prove a costly miss as the Sharks marched downfield and were awarded the penalty try for Mannering's interference on Bukuya.
Chad Townsend went perilously close to extending the lead 10 minutes later, but after the bunker denied him his sixth try of the season, the Warriors recovered to cross through Thomas Leuluai to cut the gap to two.
It was never going to be a comfortable lead, and with seven minutes to go, Issac Luke knocked over a penalty goal to level the scores after Wade Graham had held on too long in the tackle.
Despite a frantic finish to the game, neither side could land the knockout punch forcing the game to the lottery of golden point.
Cronulla had first use of the ball and should have won the game then and there when Townsend broke through with Barba unmarked on his inside. Inexplicably, the Sharks fullback lost the ball with the line beckoning to let the Warriors off the hook.
Thankfully for the Sharks custodian, Maloney coolly slotted the field goal to extend their winning record to 11 games with another game at home next week against the Eels.
Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks 19 (Michael Ennis, Ricky Leutele, Jayson Bukuya tries; James Maloney 3 goals; Maloney field goal) defeated Warriors 18 (Blake Ayshford, Jonathan Wright, Thomas Leuluai tries; Issac Luke 3 goals) at Southern Cross Group Stadium. Half-time: Sharks 12-10. Crowd: 12,074.