The Raiders are on to week two of the finals as the Sharks season comes to an end.
The Canberra Raiders have fought off the determined Cronulla Sharks 32 – 20 in an intense do or die final at GIO Stadium.
The Raiders were favourites going into the clash off their 38 – 28 victory over the same squad last week, but the Sharks had control for the first 40 minutes as they won the territory battle in an intense first half.
Chad Townsend looked certain to open the scoring off a grubber into the in-goal but with a disallowed try cam a penalty against John Bateman on a runner which allowed the Sharks to open the scoring with a penalty goal for a 2 – 0 lead.
Joseph Tapine earned the first try of the night when he broke through five defenders to crash over under the posts in their first attacking opportunity of the match. Jarrod Croker added the extra two as the Raiders led 6 – 2 after nine minutes of play.
Toby Rudolf lost the ball for the Sharks which was cleaned up by Josh Papalii in what seemed to be a chance for the Raiders, but in a redemption play, Rudolf pulled off a one-on-one strip and the Sharks went back on the attack.
Ronaldo Mulitalo scored Cronulla’s first try down the sideline when an overlap created space for him to cross in the corner after 19 minutes. A failed conversion from Townsend left the scores locked in at 6 – 6.
The kick-off from Jordan Rapana went out on the full to put Cronulla in good field position, and a subsequent penalty against Papalii saw them kick for two again and extend their lead 8 – 6.
The frustrations grew in the Raiders as Elliott Whitehead lost the ball in their 10 and the Sharks cleaned it up for a try to Blayke Brailey as he crashed into the posts in his first NRL final. Townsend successfully converted to extend their lead 14 – 6.
The Sharks kept the pressure on, completing at 93% with 74% of the field position as Valemai collects a kick and is forced over the dead-ball line.
The Sharks earned another penalty in the Raiders 10 as Brailey is taken from the field with injury from a collision with the posts. This was the end of Braileys night as the Sharks were forced to reshuffle around the dummy half role.
An error from the Sharks gave the Raiders the ball as they worked it away from their own in-goal, but they turned it over as the Sharks kept the pressure on in defence.
The visitors forced another goal line drop out off a fifth tackle option that Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad was forced to take dead. With four minutes left on the clock, the Raiders earned a penalty deep in their half to help them work it down the field.
George Williams and Dunamis Lui broke the Sharks line as the Raiders went on the attack, but a grubber kick from Wighton was just too much for the chasers, beating everyone over the dead-ball line.
George Williams came up with an intercept and ran down the field to score the Raiders second try two minutes before the break in a massive individual effort. Croker couldn’t convert and the scores were locked in 14 – 10 going into the break.
The Sharks defence was a huge highlight of the first half, keeping the Raiders down their end of the ground for almost the whole 40 minutes, with just seven tackles on the Raiders in Sharks territory. The visitors also managed to force four dropouts to the Raiders nil as the kept the pressure on.
Jack Wighton opened the scoring in the second half, taking the quick tap off a penalty as the Raiders retook the lead after 47 minutes. Sharks defenders argued against the quick tap, but the referee ruled the way of the Raiders as Croker added the two for a 16 – 14 lead.
Wighton went back to back, leaping above the rest to collect a perfectly placed kick from Williams and put the Raiders in front by six. Croker extended that lead to 22 – 14.
Wighton and Williams combined again, this time for a Williams try off the back of a line-break from Hudson Young with 24 left on the clock. Croker added the extra two for a 28 – 14 lead as the Raiders pulled away.
The Raiders made their way down the field and a kick from Croker put Elliott Whitehead into the in-goal as the scores remained 32 – 14 off a missed conversion by Croker.
Frustrations grew as the clock wound down as both sides fought to play on next week in the do or die final, with 14 errors each throughout the match.
Sione Katoa made a break down the field to score for the sharks with 90 seconds left on the clock, and a successful conversion from Townsend put the scores at 32 – 20.
The last try wouldn’t change the result as the final buzzer went and for the end of the Sharks 2020 season.
Off the back of their win, the Raiders will now look ahead to next week when they come up against the Sydney Roosters in the Grand Final replay.