Halfback Aiden Sezer secured Canberra a top-four berth and ruined Cronulla’s farewell celebrations for Paul Gallen with three field goals as the Raiders came from behind to snatch a 15-14 extra-time win at PointsBet Stadium on Sunday.
After trading field goals with Sharks halfback Chad Townsend in regular time, Sezer ensured a Raiders win with his third field goal in the 88th minute to put the Green Machine into third place on for-and-against from South Sydney and two points clear of fifth-placed Manly.
The loss leaves the Sharks now needing to beat Wests Tigers at Leichhardt Oval next weekend to confirm their place in the finals in a match that could be the last for Gallen or Tigers hooker Robbie Farah, who are retiring at the end of the season.
A capacity crowd of 18,985, which included Prime Minister Scott Morrison, packed PointsBet stadium for Gallen’s last home game but they left disappointed after goal-kicking cost the Sharks for the fourth time this season.
Cronulla scored three tries to two but Sydney Roosters-bound playmaker Kyle Flanagan was unable to kick a goal.
Match: Sharks v Raiders
Round 24 -
Venue: PointsBet Stadium, Sydney
The Sharks suffered a massive blow just minutes before kick-off after star playmaker Shaun Johnson suffered a right quad injury in the warm-up and had to be replaced by Flanagan.
With fullback Matt Moylan already sidelined by a hamstring problem there were concerns about where Cronulla’s attacking potency would come from but Flanagan calmly stepped up and played a key role in arguably the Sharks' best half of football this season.
Sezer wins it with his third field goal
The 20-year-old was instrumental in the opening try of the match when he held up a pass for Kurt Capewell and the bench utility, who was deputising at right centre while Josh Morris underwent a HIA, put unmarked winger Ronaldo Mutalino over in the 17th minute.
Jayden Brailey then started and finished a movement involving halfback Chad Townsend and strike centre Bronson Xerri, who danced through the defence near the tryline before sending the Sharks hooker racing away to score six minutes later.
With the opportunity to lock up a finals berth as well as farewell Gallen from PointsBet Stadium in style, the Sharks were as determined in defence as they were enterprising in attack and Canberra’s only real first-half scoring opportunity resulted in a disallowed try to Corey Horsburgh.
Morris was also denied a try in the 33rd minute after the Bunker ruled that the ball had glanced the touchline as he dived on a Flanagan kick into the Raiders in-goal.
However, the Sharks took a 12-0 lead to halftime after Townsend and Flanagan combined with Morris to lay on Mulitalo’s second try.
Raiders go over 100 metres to get level
With Flanagan unable to convert any of Cronulla’s three first-half tries there was always a danger that the Raiders would take advantage and they reduced the deficit to just six points when hooker Josh Hodgson put fullback Charnze Nicoll-Klokstand over in the 50th minute.
Moving to fullback after Josh Dugan failed a HIA, Morris produced two great try-saving tackles within minutes of each other, stopping a runaway Jack Wighton and then chasing down Raiders centre Jarrod Croker after he fielded a kick in-goal and split the defence to run 80 metres.
Mulitalo dives over in the corner
However, Morris’s heroics did not get the reward he deserved as Canberra centre Nick Cotric scored on the next tackle after Jordan Rapana and Klokstad combined to take advantage of the overlap and Croker’s conversion levelled the scores at 12-12 in the 60th minute.
A 67th minute Aidan Sezer field goal put the visitors ahead for the first time in the match but Townsend replied two minutes later to again lock up the scores and set up a dramatic finish.
Townsend appeared to have sealed the win for the Sharks with his second field goal three minutes from fulltime but the Raiders regained possession after Briton Nikora fumbled a short kick-off by Jordan Rapana and Sezer levelled up to force the game into extra time.