The Canberra Raiders have lost a nail-biting qualifying final to the Cronulla Sharks 16-14 at GIO Stadium.
A lower leg injury to Josh Hodgson turned the game on its head as the Sharks overturned a 12-0 deficit to qualify for the preliminary final.
As a result, the Raiders will host the winner of the Panthers and Bulldogs clash, at GIO Stadium next weekend.
The match started at a frenetic pace, and Chad Townsend was the first player to cross the line. The halfback took advantage of a second phase play to weave his way through the Raiders’ defence. However, the referee ruled no try, and the bunker confirmed a knock-on in the build-up.
Josh Hodgson opened the scoring in the 13th minute with a run from dummy half. The hooker’s run broke through the defensive line, but the ball flew high after it was dislodged by a Sharks defender. However, Hodgson showed his poise by regathering the loose ball to score.
The Raiders scored a second try after Jordan Rapana gathered a loose James Maloney pass near the Raiders line. The winger sprinted the length of the field score.
Edrick Lee nearly added to the Raiders tally after he received a pass from Croker but the winger was unable to latch onto the difficult chance.
Matt Prior barged his way over the try-line to put the Sharks on the scoreboard two minutes from half-time.
Maloney kicked a simple conversion to send the sides into the sheds with the Raiders holding a 12-6 lead.
The Raiders copped a heavy blow when Josh Hodgson was carried from the field early in the second half.
Jarrod Croker extended the Raiders lead from the tee after the Raiders were awarded a penalty. A high tackle on Sam Williams gave the Raiders skipper a chance 35 meters out, which he duly converted.
However, the Raiders struggled to keep the Sharks at bay with the absence of their hooker.
Valentine Holmes took the Sharks within striking distance after the winger was first to pounce on a well-placed Luke Lewis grubber.
Faced with a sideline conversion, Maloney slotted the kick between the posts to narrow the Raiders’ lead to two points.
Under enormous pressure, the Raiders defended strongly for consecutive sets. Unable to find a way past the green wall, Maloney successfully kicked a penalty to level the scores.
With seven minutes remaining, Aidan Sezer attempted to kick a field goal, but the effort was narrowly wide.
The Sharks quickly ran up for field to earn a penalty after the referee ruled that Whitehead caught Barba high in a tackle.
James Maloney kicked the penalty to win the game and send Cronulla into the preliminary final.
Sharks 16 (Tries: Prior, Holmes Conversions: Maloney 2/2 Penalties: Maloney 2/2) defeated Raiders 14 (Tries: Hodgson, Rapana Conversions: Croker 2/2 Penalties: Croker 1/1)
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