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The Roosters, seemingly running out of steam and troops, pulled off one of the great finals victories on Saturday night.
A side that finished the game without Joseph Suaalii and Joseph Manu – and also had to overcome the sin-binning of James Tedesco in a chaotic second half – hung on to beat Cronulla 13-12 at PointsBet Stadium.
It seemed fitting that Sam Walker, a player who was dropped mid-season and who picked up a leg injury that prevented him from taking a penalty goal to level the scores, kicked the winning field goal.
Nicho Hynes had two cracks at levelling the scores with field-goal attempts of his own, both of which were charged down by desperate defenders.
It resulted in one of the most improbable victories. The game seemed over when Suaalii failed to come out for the second half after he was diagnosed with a category-three concussion during the break.
Things didn’t get any better for the Roosters after the resumption. Manu, who had shifted from centre to wing to cover for Suaalii, limped off shortly afterwards after succumbing to the hamstring injury that sidelined him last week.
Siua Wong celebrates scoring a try.Credit: Getty
When Tedesco spent 10 minutes in the sin bin soon after – the Sharks scored in his absence through Ronaldo Mulitalo – it appeared one too many obstacles to overcome.
However, the Roosters are no strangers to sudden-death football, having played it for the preceding five weeks. Rather than letting the pressure take its toll, it steeled their resolve during the toughest moments.
Having qualified for the playoffs after a slow start – by eliminating great rivals South Sydney in the process – the season was no longer a bust. But after conjuring a miraculous win to take their streak to six, there are hopes that the pre-season expectations – many pundits tipped them for the premiership – may yet come to pass.
The Sharks were left to rue missed opportunities. On countless occasions they were thwarted by the video referee or an errant pass that went to ground rather than hand. After being bundled out in straight sets last year, they will now go at least six years without a playoff win.
Sam Walker kicks what proved to be a decisive field goal.Credit: Getty
Craig Fitzgibbon’s men enjoyed a late-season revival, sparked by Hynes. The skipper laid on two tries with sublime passes; the first was a perfectly weighted floater, the other a reflex catch-and-deliver effort to put his side in front.
When he brought down Billy Smith with a classic covering tackle, it seemed he had played a winning hand. However, the Roosters’ revival continues.
This was the hardest ticket in town to get. A packed house full of vocal locals, a southerly making a chilly night colder still, a series of close misses ratcheting up the intensity of an already tight encounter. In other words a typical Saturday night at Shark Park.
This is why the Sharks had no interest in taking the game out of the Shire, particularly if it meant going to the home ground of their lower-placed opponents. It meant some fans were locked out, but those who attended made their presence felt. They were unable to cheer their side home.
When Siua Wong scored, after a ricocheted Sandon Smith kick fell into his arms, a leg injury hobbled Walker and Smith was forced to take the conversion. He duly stepped up to level the scores, setting up Walker’s late heroics.
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