A fired up and committed Manly outfit has proven too good for the Sharks, the Sea Eagles despite being without a couple of key personnel scoring an impressive 28-16 victory at Lottoland in the elimination final.
It was a result which continued Manly’s lopsided record in matches played over the years against the Cronulla club, with the Sharks falling behind 18-0 early and never really looking likely of mounting a come-from-behind win.
The consensus in the losing dressing room was that their year was one of lost opportunity, injuries to some of the leading players making life difficult at stages, however inconsistency was ultimately their downfall both in this match and throughout the season.
In front of a parochial home crowd the Sea Eagles began with plenty of energy and just nine minutes in would post first points, hooker Api Koroisau diving over from dummy half.
Reuben Garrick added the extras giving Manly a 6-0 lead, an advantage they would build on soon after when centre Moses Suli ran onto a perfectly-weighted Daly Cherry-Evans pass and into a gaping hole to touch down for his teams second.
Garrick padded the lead out to 12 when he kicked the conversion from a wide angle.
After 19 minutes they would add to their lead, this time the try coming after a contentious call from the video referee, Brett Parker appearing to bounce the ball in attempting to ground it but when the vision was inconclusive and the try given.
Again Garrick slotted the kick, this time from the eastern touchline and the Sharks had it all to do at 18-0 down less than 20-minutes into the contest.
The introduction of Aaron Woods and Jack Williams seemed to give the Sharks some impetus as they worked their way into the arm wrestle and their efforts were rewarded with a Bronson Xerri try.
After a penalty had gifted the Sharks field position, on the back end of their set of six a shift to the left saw Wade Graham throw the final pass, Xerri diving over wide out.
Johnson couldn't convert but the Sharks at least had some encouragement at 18-4 behind.
The remainder of the half was evenly fought, with the score unchanged at the break.
Sharks coach John Morris stressed the importance of his team being first to score in the second half and they delivered on his instruction, after a repeat set of six a long Johnson cut-out putting Aaron Gray over in the corner.
This time Johnson was able to convert from around five metres in from the sideline and it was 18-10 Manly with still 35 minutes of the match to go.
A Sharks error on the ensuing set of six however put them on the back foot once again and the Sea Eagles took advantage when big front rower Addin Fonua Blake crashed through a couple of Cronulla defenders to score adjacent to the uprights.
Garrick maintained his perfect record with the boot and Manly had pushed the lead back out to 14 with the score 24-10 to the Sea Eagles.
The Sharks pressed, however errors with the football hampered their progress, meaning they were forced to defend for extended periods and finally their resolve was broken, fullback Brendan Elliott sealing the Manly win with a try just seven minutes from the full time siren.
Garrick was unsuccessful with his kick at goal but at 28-10 the Sharks season was almost over.
A late try to Josh Morris and a spectacular one at that when Townsend gathered a chip kick before passing to Johnson and then to Morris for the score, narrowed the final margin but it wouldn’t be enough, the Sea Eagles going on to face the Rabbitohs while the Sharks would head home to the Shire to lick their wounds and turn their focus to 2020.
Bronson Xerri, Aaron Gray, Josh Morris tries, Shaun Johnson 2 goals
Addin Fonua Blake, Brendan Elliott, Api Koroisau