The Matthews Cup Sharks have come agonisingly close to upsetting competition hot-shots the Penrith Panthers, with a controversial late call sealing their fate.
Having battled back to be within two points of their opponents late in the match, Sharks winger Albert Litisoni was ruled to have gone into touch when attempting to score the match-winning try, with the Panthers hanging on to claim a 20-18 victory.
The result was a disappointing one for the under-17 Sharks, who with the loss bow out of the race for a top six berth and a place in the Matthews Cup finals.
On a positive, the Sharks were courageous against a highly-rated opponent and had they performed to the level they reached in this game in the weeks prior, they would have proved a tough opponent in the Matthews Cup finals series.
The Sharks appeared headed for a long afternoon when they conceded first points in the opening minute of the game.
Undeterred they matched the Panthers in the next period of the contest, taking the lead in the 18th minute when Sharks skipper Siteni Taukamo scored, converted by Chevy Stewart, until the Penrith side would score again to take an 8-6 lead to the half time break.
The young Cronulla team went back in front with the opening points of the second term, Osca Catton scoring, the try converted by Stewart, however their advantage was short-lived with the Panthers taking control once again, two tries in quick succession pushing their lead out to 20-12 and the Sharks had it all to do.
Showing a determination perhaps missing from some of their previous performances the Sharks responded, Lachlan Colenso grabbing a try and when Stewart was again on target it was game on with a tick over five minutes of the match remaining.
With their season on the line the Sharks pushed forward once more and had appeared to have pulled off a last minute win, only for the touch judge to controversially deny Litisoni a try when at first glance it had looked as if the Cronulla winger had remained in the field of play while grounding the ball before then being tackled over the sideline.
The Sharks had one final shot at the Panthers from a scrum, only for the play to amount to nothing as the home team survived to take the win and the all-important two competition points.
The Matthews Cup Sharks now have one final game, the washed out round seven match against the Parramatta Eels, to finish their 2021 season.
Lachlan Colenso, Siteni Taukamo, Osca Catton tries, Chevy Stewart 3 goals