Cronulla coach John Morris refused to blame goal kicking for his team’s 12-10 loss to Canberra on Sunday night after halfback Chad Townsend landed just one goal from four attempts and missed two shots in the final minutes.
The Sharks fought back from a 12-0 deficit at half-time and Townsend twice had the chance to level the scores after centre Josh Dugan scored in the 72nd minute and he attempted a penalty goal with only seconds on the clock.
"I feel like I let the boys down. Sometimes stuff doesn't go your way," Townsend said on ABC Sport after the heart-breaking loss.
"I've busted my backside all summer to get the goal-kicking job. I backed myself to kick it. I'll move onto the next job."
Match: Sharks v Raiders
Round 2 -
Venue: Netstrata Jubilee Stadium, Sydney
The loss bought back memories of the 2019 season when Cronulla lost five matches in which they scored more tries than the opposition but Morris said a high error rate in the first half had proved more costly than Townsend’s goal kicking.
"Chad is obviously not real happy with a couple of his kicks but it shouldn’t have been about that. Whenever I felt we had a chance to push ahead in the game we would come up with a cheap error," Morris said.
"I felt that we were coming home strong but when you look at the stats, we were about 60 per cent completion rate, whereas last week we were around 90 per cent. We had 18 errors in total and 11 of them came out of the back field."
Despite completing just 11 sets of possession in the first half, the Sharks only trailed 6-0 until Josh Hodgson ran out of dummy half and put Hudson Young over for a try as the halftime siren sounded.
Morris said five-eighth Matt Moylan had taken responsibility for a wayward pass which Canberra centre Curtis Scott had toed ahead to give the Raiders the opportunity to score their second try.
“The 18 errors in the game is what takes its toll, not goal kicking," Morris said. “He has been outstanding, he kicked six from six last week [against the Dragons] and was kicking them from the sideline.
“Like any playmaker they probably wear it on themselves but it is not about Chad Townsend, he set up two tries for us as well. It's never about that in my eyes.
"I really admire their effort and Canberra are a quality side. Most people have got them right up the top of the ladder and we really pushed them all the way.
“It finished two tries apiece so I have really got to admire the effort of our boys in staying in the fight and giving ourselves a chance to win the game there at the end.
"They kept on turning up for each other and they defended their line for 50-something tackles so to only give them two tries was a good effort."
Fancy footwork at the line and Kris has the opener
Canberra centre Sebastian Kris eventually got the first points on the board for the visitors in the 24th minute when he combined footwork and power to beat Townsend with a run close to the try-line.
Josh Hodgson put Joseph Tapine over on the stroke of half-time but former Sharks centre Curtis Scott deserved plenty of credit for the try after toeing ahead a wayward Sharks pass on Canberra’s 30-metre line and winning the race for the ball to create the opportunity.
The Raiders began the second half as they finished the first, with interchange forward Sia Soliola jolting the ball loose from centre Mawene Hiroti in a heavy tackle in the opening minute and only desperate defence prevented five-eighth Jack Wighton from scoring in the corner.
Execution perfection from Townsend and Kennedy
Hiroti must have felt like he had a target on his head as he was lined up by James returning a kick from near his own line and again lost the ball.
Townsend then put the home side back into the game when he threaded a grubber behind the Canberra defence for Will Kennedy to pounce on the ball and score Cronulla’s first try in the 55th minute.
A missed conversion attempt by Townsend proved costly but a comedy of errors after Canberra winger Jordan Rapana knocked the ball loose from team-mate Elliott Whitehead gave Cronulla another chance.
Dugan scores from a loose ball
However, the attack appeared to lose momentum when referee Chris Sutton stopped play to check on Wighton after being bowled over in an attempted tackle by Connor Tracey, saying: "I was concerned about a head knock."
A tackle by Hudson Young on Toby Rudolf without the ball enabled Townsend to reduce the deficit to 12-6 with a simple 65th-minute penalty goal.
A melee after Billy Magoulias stripped the ball from Hudson Young and Curtis Scott came racing in to push Ronaldo Mulitalo gave Cronulla a penalty and Josh Dugan scored at the end of the next set when he pounced on a loose ball in the Canberra in-goal.
Townsend was the architect of the try with a cross-field kick for Mulitalo that was knocked back in an aerial contest with Simonsson and Dugan scored but the Cronulla halfback again missed the conversion.
Another penalty against Simonsson for running Dugan off the ball gave Townsend another chance to level the scores in the final minute but he hooked the ball wide again and Canberra hung on to win.