The Sharks have secured home field advantage for Finals Week One after getting past a Raiders side – who played the final 20 minutes a man down following the dismissal of Seb Kris – 24-6 on Sunday.
With Cronulla leading 10-6 and the game hanging in the balance, Kris lifted Sione Katoa above the horizonal before the winger was sent head first into the PointsBet Stadium turf, leading to Kris being sent off and effectively ending Canberra’s hopes of jumping the Sharks on the ladder.
It means the Sharks will host the Roosters next week, while the Raiders face a tough trip to McDonald Jones Stadium to play a Knights side on a nine-game winning run.
Having entered Round 27 tied on 32 competition points, the two sides were effectively vying for the right to play at home in the opening week of the post season and for the first hour they delivered a game which had all of the intensity you’d expect from a sudden-death encounter.
While they brought contrasting styles to the game – with the Raiders intent on completing at a high rate and then peppering Connor Tracey with bombs, but the Sharks eager to be more adventurous with ball in hand – there was very little between them prior to Kris being marched.
Canberra had got off to a dream start when Jordan Rapana jumped high and plucked the ball from above Tracey for the opener.
It was a successful captain’s challenge – which changed a Jesse Ramien knock on call into a Sharks penalty for a strip – that helped change momentum in the 15th minute, with Ramien crossing on the ensuing set, after Connor Tracey dug into the line and provided the final pass.
With two points in it the arm wrestle intensified as both teams completed at a high rate and traded blows through the middle of the park.
The Raiders then had several chances to add to their tally before the break, but came up short on each occasion after Rapana and Zac Woolford had claims ruled out by the Bunker and Matt Frawley pinged a field goal attempt off the upright on the last play of the half.
After firing a warning shot in the shape of a Nicho Hynes break which was contained, Cronulla hit the front minutes later through interchange forward Jack Williams, with Braydon Trindall’s conversion making it 10-6 with 25 to play.
With Kris off the field, the Sharks took immediate advantage with tries three minutes apart from Braydon Trindall and Ronaldo Mulitalo, which took them to a 20-6 lead and relieved them of scoreboard pressure.
A try to Katoa with eight to play put the icing on the cake for Cronulla in front of their home fans.