Cronulla Sharks have their season ended in controversial circumstances.
The Manly Sea Eagles have moved into the NRL preliminary finals after holding on for a six-point win over a fast-finishing Cronulla side at Allianz Stadium.
Sharks hooker John Morris went from hero to villain in the space of a week as he gave away a late penalty that all but ended his side’s season.
After pulling off a try-stopping tackle against Kane Linnett last weekend, Morris was rightfully penalised for interfering with the manly markers from an off-side position.
It was his presence that opened a hole for Cronulla captain Paul Gallen to charge through to score what could have been the try to lock the game up with five minutes remaining.
But the Sharks fans only saw red on the scoreboard and red themselves as their season was ended with Manly showing amazing resolve to hang on.
The Sea Eagles now move on to play South Sydney in the preliminary final next week, with the winner to move through to the NRL grand final.
Cronulla started well when halfback Jeff Robson pulled off a try-saving tackle for the Sharks early on as he stopped Brent Kite close to the line after Manly earned consecutive sets.
After failing to score for the first time in three season last weekend against the Sydney Roosters,
the early blown chance played on their minds.
Handling by both sides was loose in the early going as both teams unnecessarily chances their arm.
Cronulla blew a golden chance to score first when centre Jonathan Wright ignored his unmarked
teammate to his outside.
Jamie Lyon elected to take two points from point blank after the Sharks gave away an early penalty, give them the early 2-0.
Manly scored after Steve Matai accidentally batted the ball backwards allowing Anthony Watmough’s
grounding the fortuitous bounce for the first try of the game.
Lyon added the extras as the score became a handy 8-0 for the away side.
The Sharks were their own worst enemies early as they released the pressure valve on Manly when they were managed to put themselves into an attacking position.
But that has been nullified by the four early errors by the Sea Eagles in what was still an even first quarter of the game.
Eventually the Sharks broke through on the left edge as fullback Michael Gordon stood in the tackle and scrambled over with Manly’s normally strong defence nowhere to be seen.
In what was a vital try for Cronulla, they closed the margin to just two.
Daly Cherry Evans put through a well-weighted grubber for his halves partner Kieran Foran to clean up and Manly made the margin eight again on the stroke of half-time.
Watmough picked up an injury early in the first half but continued to push through it
as the Sea Eagles went on the attack.
The injury woes continued as Lyon went down in an awkward tackle as he clutched at the lower-half of his left leg.
Despite appearing to be in severe discomfort Lyon got up and played the ball as the team moved the ball to left wing, seeing Jorge Taufua smashed his way into the corner.
The attempt was looked at by the third referee, and thanks to the on-field referee giving it as a try, the green light was shown in what was a crucial score to make the score 18-6.
Andrew Fifita scored one of the tries of the season when he touched down inside the dead-ball line off a grubber to keep his side in the hunt.
Cherry-Evans then scored a sizzling try to extend the Manly lead back out to 12.
In a bizarre try, Wright coasted across despite plenty of Manly defence around him as the result went back on the tackle at 24-18 with Sea Eagles fading late in the tense game.
Cronulla continued to surge as Gallen bashed his way across the line sending the Sharks’ fans into raptures.
However, the pocket referee said no try based on the markers being taken out at the play-the-ball with replays showing that indeed Morris was off-side and also took out a Manly player.
The crucial call in the 74th minute could be the end of the Sharks’ season despite the fact they are coming home with a wet sail.
Steve Matai lost the ball with just over a minute left on the clock with the ball to be restarted on the half-way line.
But a butchered last-tackle kick from Robson sealed the Sharks’ fate as their season ended and Manly moved on to fight another day.