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Matts Cup Sharks book Grand Final berth

Down to 12 men, with the skipper off the field for 10 of the last 11 minutes of the match, it was a backs to the wall win built on resilience and determination, with the Matthews Cup Sharks booking their place in the Grand Final with a nail-biting semi-final triumph over the Roosters.

The Sharks repelled repeated raids from their opponents in the closing moments of the match, only to hold on and score a courageous 14-12 victory, setting up a game against the Wests Magpies next weekend.

Without Chevy Stewart late in the game, the Sharks fullback and captain singled out after his team had given away repeated penalties, in addition to a puzzling sin binning in the first half for what was ruled a professional foul, the Sharks were outstanding in defense as they won their way through to the competition decider to give themselves a chance of claiming the NSWRL under-17’s title.

Coach Brad Kelly was understandably pleased with the win and proud of the defensive resolve shown by his team.

“It was a real test for us and of our character,” Kelly began. “To win with two players in the sin bin, down to 12 men for 20 mins of the game, it was a huge thing to fight back from. At this level its almost unheard of to fight back when you’re under that sort of pressure.  

“It showed they’ve got a lot of grit, a lot of determination, they lifted and to hold them out, it was an unreal performance,” Kelly said.

Against a Rooster side which had the best attacking record in the competition and who had only lost one game during the 2022 season it was always going to be a considerable challenge for a Sharks team forced into three late changes due to sickness and injury.

The Sharks began the game with plenty of energy and they were immediately rewarded, backrower Josh Sidoti posting first points with a strong run down the right-hand side.

Stewart was unable to add the extras but it was a good start for the Cronulla team at 4-0 just three minutes into the contest.

It took the Roosters until the 18th minute to reply, centre Cooper Toy getting across the line, exploiting a one man advantage after Alex McFadden had been sin-binned for what was deemed a professional foul and following the conversion it was 6-4 to the Roosters.

Forced to defend for long periods the young Sharks repelled the Roosters and their efforts at one end were rewarded at the other, Stewart putting his team back in front when showing amazing strength to get the ball down despite the attention of three opposition defenders.

Stewart would add the extras in making it 10-6 to the Sharks at the half time break.

Coming out for the second half with a similar attitude to the one they finished the first, the Sharks added to their advantage when Matts Cup debutant Jay McLaughlin finished off a back-line movement to score in the south-eastern corner of Kogarah Jubilee and at 14-6 the Cronulla side had their tails up.

Sensing their season was slipping away the Roosters battled back. Saving a try at the southern end, then busting the Sharks open with a line break down the middle of the field, the Roosters went on the attack and a try adjacent to the posts narrowed the margin to just two, setting up a grandstand finish.

The Stewart sin-binning when pulling off a try saving tackle put the Sharks under immense pressure, but they would hold on with a remarkable defensive effort over the final 10 minutes, winning their way through to a game against minor premiers the Wests Magpies next Saturday.

The Sharks had too many outstanding performers to name just a few, however the efforts of the middle forwards in containing their opposition and getting their team on the front foot went a long way towards securing the win.

As he was last week Richard Whalebone was outstanding at left centre, similarly Albert Lisoni on the right was solid throughout, with wingers McLaughlin, in his first game at Matts Cup level, and Tanner Featherstone in just his second match this season, doing all that was asked of them.

“Jay McLaughlin jumped on the wing for us and did a great job. It was a tough situation to come into his first game of the season in the semi finals. He scored a try, probably could have got another one and he did nothing wrong.” Kelly said.

The Sharks will now look to get over their bumps and bruises ahead of the Grand Final next weekend, which is scheduled for Saturday at CommBank Stadium.

Jay McLaughlin, Chevy Stewart, Josh Sidoti tries, Stewart goal

Acknowledgement of Country

Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks respect and honour the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.