A field goal from Sharks winger Valentine Holmes has secured a Golden Point victory for the Cronulla side, as the 19-year-old showed composure well beyond his years to slot the all-important point in extra time.
The field-goal is the second of such plays that Holmes has carried out in 2015, having done the same to defeat the Titans on the Gold Coast 23 points to 22 in Round 10.
Holmes’ play came only moments after the Sharks were denied a last-gasp try in regular time, as prop Andrew Fifita had looked to have scored his second of the match and what would have been the match winner.
The frantic finish to the clash came after the hosts got off to a near-perfect start, as hooker Josh Hodgson kicked his side to an advantage via a 40/20. Deep on the attack and full of running, Raiders in-form five-eighth Blake Austin made his 15th line break of the season and went close to putting Joey Leilua into score.
The mid-season signing from Newcastle couldn’t capitalise on the Austin break, spilling the ball and letting the Cronulla side off the hook.
Working the ball down field and into an attacking position, Luke Lewis’ pass sent Valentine Holmes in to score for his 10th try of the season. Fullback Michael Gordon converted from the sideline to send the Sharks side up by 6 after 8 minutes.
A consistent flow of penalties saw the Sharks again deep inside the Raiders half, before an infringement on Andrew Fifita led to Gordon adding another two points from the kicking tee.
Wily hooker Michael Ennis forced an error on his opposite number Hodgson, and the side went on to earn another set of six tackles from a goal line drop out. In the prevailing set of six, Ricky Leutele marked his 50th game in the top grade with a try. With Gordon unable to convert, Cronulla’s advantage remained at 12 points.
Playing a brand of attacking, free-flowing football not often seen from the Cronulla side, the Sharks posed plenty of questions of the Canberra defence and very nearly ran in a third try.
However in letting the Raiders out of their end with ill discipline, the hosts managed to convert as Edrick Lee brought the margin back to eight points. While the Sharks pressed hard to extend their lead thereafter, they would be unable to break the Raiders defence and returned to the sheds with a 12-4 lead.
The Raiders started the second half as they did the first, and the Cronulla goal line was under siege in the early stages. Austin and Papalii linked close to the line, and the Green Machine scored to reduced their deficit to 2.
Earning themselves a penalty in the next set of six, Canberra again looked likely to trouble the Sharks defence if not for a forward pass which killed the side's momentum.
Working the ball down to the Raiders’ end of the field, Ennis threw Fifita through a hole to take the score to 18 points to 10. Holmes soon after had looked to take the lead to 12 – if not 14 points as he crossed out wide – before it was ruled that Lewis had knocked on in the lead up.
The ‘no try’ decision saw the momentum swing in favour of the hosts, and Edrick Lee ran in his second of the afternoon in the 64th minute. Croker slotted the extras to take the score to 18-16, Cronulla still holding the slender lead.
Croker’s boot then send his side to the front thanks to two penalty goals, and the Raiders lead 20-18 with 6 minutes to play.
With captain Paul Gallen, halfback Robson and centre Leutele all celebrating individual milestones, the Cronulla side lifted and had thought to have sealed the match as Fifita swooped on an Ennis grubber and claimed the would-be match-winner.
Although not awarded the try, the Sharks earned a penalty and Gordon levelled the match at 20-apiece as the siren sounded.
Electing to receive possession in extra time, Cronulla worked through one set before defending another, with their expansive style of play in the prevailing set seeing the side in good field position.
Not flustered by the responsibility of kicking the side ahead, Holmes stepped up to the mark and slotted the decisive field goal, as Cronulla sealed a 21-20 victory – and the 5th from their last 6 starts.
CRONULLA SHARKS: 21 – TRIES: Holmes, Leutele, Fifita | GOALS: Gordon (4/5) | FIELD GOALS: Holmes (1/1)
Def. CANBERRA RAIDERS: 20 – TRIES: Lee (2), Papalii | GOALS: Croker (4/5)