Sharks storm home to topple Roosters
The return of inspirational skipper Paul Gallen has breathed new life into Cronulla's quest for premiership glory with the Sharks overpowering the Roosters 37-12 to record their first win in over a month.
Saturday night's win – their 11th from 12 matches at home – sets up a mouth-watering clash against the Storm next week that will decide the minor premiership.
Having missed the previous two games with a calf complaint, Gallen was simply unstoppable against the in-form Roosters with 212 metres, 26 tackles, three offloads and a try in a sensational 60-minute stint.
In what was Michael Ennis' final game in the Shire, his teammates lifted after a sluggish start to pile on 37 straight points to send the No.9 out in style.
The night couldn't have started any worse for the Roosters with powerhouse lock forward Sio Siua Taukeiaho helped from the field in the second minute with a suspected knee injury, before Mitchell Pearce sent his first kick out on the full.
Things quickly got better for the Tricolours with a converted try and a penalty goal helping them to eight-point lead after 15 minutes.
Connor Watson was earlier this week compared to Kurt Gidley, and the Roosters five-eighth showed similar tenacity to the former Knights legend to crash through for the opening try of the game after some frantic play on the last.
A Latrell Mitchell penalty goal pushed the visitors further in front before the Roosters produced three errors in the space of two minutes to welcome the hosts back into the contest.
The Sharks should have taken full advantage of the invitation to attack – and they looked to have done just that – only for Gerard Beale's grubber to go unrewarded as Sosaia Feki failed to ground the ball.
It would prove to be a costly miss as a pinpoint Pearce kick was spectacularly reeled in by Mitchell, with the rookie winger showing brute strength to outleap Feki and slam the ball down.
There was nothing pretty about the Sharks' response, but it proved effective as Matt Prior scooped up a Michael Ennis grubber that had been fumbled by two Roosters to score a much-needed try next to the posts.
As tempers flared and the game threatened to boilover, Sharks fullback Ben Barba took it upon himself to inflict a blow where it mattered most – on the scoreboard – as he collected a loose ball to score in the shadows of half-time.
Locked at 12-all with time all-but expired, James Maloney took advantage of a late penalty to knock over a 40-metre field goal to give the Sharks a deserved lead at the break.
The Sharks had the opportunity to push the lead out to three points, but instead of taking a difficult shot at goal, opted to chance their arm. Their sense of adventure paid dividends as Beale raced through to ground a Barba grubber.
It was a case of déjà vu 10 minutes later as a long-range penalty goal was turned down in favour of an attacking raid, with returning skipper Paul Gallen somehow stretching out to plant the ball despite the attention of three defenders.
There was no stopping the Sharks at the point and Jayson Bukuya kept the good times rolling as he crashed through to extend the lead 20 minutes from full-time before Valentine Holmes crossed late for his 18th try of the season.
If it wasn't party time in the Shire already, the Cronulla faithful were given one last reason to cheer as Ennis celebrated his final game at Southern Cross Group Stadium with a penalty goal at the death to seal the 37-12 win.
Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks 37 (Matt Prior, Ben Barba, Gerard Beale, Paul Gallen, Jayson Bukuya, Valentine Holmes tries; James Maloney 5, Michael Ennis 1 goals; Maloney field goal) defeated Sydney Roosters 12 (Connor Watson, Latrell Mitchell tries; Latrell Mitchell 2 goals) at Southern Cross Group Stadium. Half-time: 13-12 Sharks. Crowd: 14,457. Injuries: Sio Siua Taukeiaho (knee).