In a game where both teams defended well but attacked poorly, a late penalty against Cronulla captain Paul Gallen allowed Michael Gordon to break a 14-all deadlock and send the Sydney Roosters up to second on the NRL Telstra Premiership ladder.
Flanagan insists Roosters didn't deserve penalty
Despite all the drama in the preceding 78 minutes, it was the crucial play of the game. With the scores locked at 14-all, an inspirational charge from Boyd Cordner got the Roosters into perfect field goal position before Paul Gallen eventually drags him to the ground. Mitch Pearce gets into position to take the kick. Gallen holds on just an instant too long. Cordner fights to get to his feet, with Gallen still holding his ankles, in a rush plants the ball before he rises, and… the ball sprays loose as Cordner dramatically tumbles back to the ground. It could have been ruled a knock on. It could have been a penalty. Either way, there'd be outrage from some and accusations of inconsistency. They're on a hiding to nothing, the refs. The penalty is blown. Michael Gordon slots an easy two points and the Roosters record a vital win. Afterwards, Sharks coach Shane Flanagan is unhappy.
"He didn't get to his feet to play the ball," Flanagan said.
"Gal made a legs tackle. If that's Andrew Fifita [attempting to play the ball], I know what's happening there, it's a scrum. Very, very frustrating as I said. I don't believe it was a penalty, if anything it was a scrum to us. That's the way it goes."
Gallen was less equivocal.
"It's one of those ones that can go either way," Gallen said.
"It was put down as a leg pull. There's no evidence of a leg pull, I definitely didn't pull his leg and I would have done the same thing, I would have tried to milk it but whether I would have got away with it or not is another thing."
The sin bin that was and the sin bin that wasn't
In the 71st minute, Luke Keary was sent for raking the ball out of Luke Lewis's arms after the ageless back-rower's long break. It was a clear-cut professional foul.
Roosters coach Trent Robinson had no issue with it. He did, however, take issue with Keary's opposite, Sharks pivot James Maloney, staying on the field for what he said was an equally blatant professional foul in the first half.
Blake Ferguson had broken the line, running over the top of Maloney in the 16th minute, before passing to a supporting Michael Gordon, who was reeled in by Sosaia Feki. With the tackle complete and the defence still trying to catch up, Gordon was slammed to the ground by Maloney. The Roosters got the penalty and Pearce put Isaac Liu over moments later but Robinson questions how Maloney was allowed to stay on the field.
"I thought that was really disappointing," Robinson said.
"Luke Keary's was a sin binning, I think it probably was [fair] but we'd had 70 metres [gained on that play], tackle finished, Maloney tackles him in the midriff and doesn't go to the bin. They're identical and they should have had the identical response. It baffles me how they can't have the identical response."
Radar deserts Sharks kickers in second half
When the Sharks go through their video review in the wash-up of this game, there will no doubt be a reminder to halves James Maloney and Chad Townsend of the need to finish sets off better in tight games.
Four times in the second half – including three in close succession – the Roosters were allowed to run the ball out to their 20-metre line for a seven-tackle set rather than working the ball off their try-line or being forced into drop-outs. Whether it was grubber kicks that were too heavy or high kicks pushed too deep that allowed Michael Gordon an easy mark in-goal, the Sharks failed to capitalise on their 68 per cent second-half possession. On another occasion at the Roosters line it went through the hands and Townsend opted for a pass to Luke Lewis, who was tackled on the last.
"We had four seven-tackle sets, poor kicks, four of them, then we didn't kick in our last," Flanagan fumed after the game.
"When we got a seven tackle set we dropped the ball on our kick so there's five sets there we need to fix up and if we fix them up we're a chance of going down the other end and kicking a goal or forcing an error on them, but we didn't execute well today in that area that's for sure."
Roosters sloppy on attack but Robinson rapt with defence
The Roosters were their own worst enemy in the second half. Or for the parts of it where they held the ball, at least. Mitch Aubusson broke the line then butchered a try. Attacking kicks failed to challenge the Sharks, who got a piggy-back penalty out of their own end at seemingly every time of asking.
But despite Cronulla holding a whopping 68 per cent of the ball in the second half, The Roosters refused to buckle. The only try came right after Luke Keary was sin-binned, otherwise they were resolute. It was premiership defence, turning the Sharks away time and again and that was what Robinson preferred to focus on after the game.
"[We were] pretty good in some different areas; I thought the way we had to defend there was top class," he said.
"The defence was of high quality to finish off that game. I thought our attack was really good, the questions that we asked, the opportunities that we got. But then some of the errors and missed opportunities that we didn't finish off, that was the disappointing part."
Sharks hopeful Graham injury just a cork
Sharks back-rower Wade Graham had to be assisted from the field after just 20 minutes with what looked a painful lower leg injury. Graham couldn't even put weight on his right leg and while Flanagan didn't want to speculate on what the injury might be or how bad it was, remained hopeful it was just a cork rather than something structural.
"We'll have to get some scans tonight and we'll check how he is," Flanagan said.
"We're not quite sure [what type of injury it is], we're not quite sure if it's just a deep cork or even worse than that. We won't speculate, we'll wait and see when we get the scans."
The Roosters had to make do without second-rower Sio Siua Taukeiaho for the last 22 minutes of the game due to a head knock and will be monitored through the week as part of standard concussion protocols. Gallen and Aidan Guerra were each taken for head injury assessments but passed and returned to finish the game.