[Photo Credit: NRL]
The Roosters’ premiership dream remains alive in 2023 after a late Sam Walker field goal saw them to a 13-12 victory over the Sharks in a chaotic elimination final last night.
Across an 80 minutes in which they had to overcome the second-half sin-binning of captain James Tedesco and the loss of backline stars Joseph Manu and Joseph-Aukuso Suaalii to injuries, the Roosters charged down two field goals in the dying minutes which would likely have sent the game to golden point, after Walker had put them in front with a clutch drop goal.
The Tricolours’ sixth-straight win sets up a meeting with the Storm in Melbourne next week, while the Sharks become the first side eliminated from the 2023 Finals Series.
Earlier the Roosters appeared to have squandered their chance to advance when they gave up six points during a 10-minute period in which Tedesco sat watching helplessly from the bin, while fellow backline members Suaalii, Manu and Billy Smith – who was undergoing a HIA he’d later pass – were off the field.
But they rallied to hit back through Siua Wong, with Billy Smith, just back on the field and standing in for Walker who appeared to be nursing a leg injury, converting to make it 12-12 with 10 to play.
Minutes later Walker, who has returned to play a key late-season role for his side after being dropped earlier in the year before overcoming a knee injury which sidelined him for several months, stepped up to nail what would be the winning play.
In the opening exchanges, both sides had chances that were ruled out by the Bunker, before Sione Katoa grabbed a floating cut-out from Nicho Hynes to score the first.
Crucially, Braydon Trindall missed the ensuing conversion, which coupled with a later miss from Nicho Hynes would play a huge role in Cronulla’s season ending.
A high tackle that saw Walker placed on report then gifted Cronulla with a penalty next to the posts, with Hynes taking over kicking duties following Trindall’s blunder.
After the break Manu scored to tie things up, before a long-range intercept from Trindall ended a promising Roosters raid in the 52nd minute and led to Tedesco committing a professional foul.
While he was in the bin Ronaldo Mulitalo scored and Hynes booted a penalty to establish a six-point lead which looked like it could be enough to win the game, until the Roosters’ gutsy reply which saw Wong score and makeshift kicker Billy Smith convert.
Enter the late drama, with two charge downs from Tedesco and then Luke Keary just as crucial as Walker’s field goal minutes earlier.
The Sharks were left to rue poor goal-kicking and a blown chance for Blayke Brailey in the second half, which saw him drop the ball over the line without a defender near him.