Cooper Cronk and James Tedesco were the difference as the Roosters downed Cronulla. (AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts)
Cooper Cronk and James Tedesco were the difference as the Roosters downed Cronulla. (AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts)

Roosters crow as Sharks sweat on Graham

IT was the cut-throat decision which polarised fans across the code.

Twelve months later, the Roosters power-play to lure Cooper Cronk to Sydney is just 80-minutes away from paying rugby league's greatest dividend after defeating Cronulla in the qualifying final at Allianz Stadium on Saturday night.

Advancing to a grand final play-off in two weeks, Cronk's radar boot lifted the Roosters to a tenacious win over a Cronulla side who blundered their opportunities in front of a crowd of 24,588.

The gutted Sharks bombed three tries, but have no time to wallow ahead of a do-or-die clash with Penrith on Friday night back at Allianz Stadium.

And they'll almost certainly have to do it without representative forward Wade Graham, who was undergoing scans for a serious knee injury on Saturday night.

While Cronk was responsible for sinking the Sharks with pinpoint kick-try for Latrell Mitchell in the second-half and a match-winning field-goal, it was the last-ditch effort of the NSW Origin star Mitchell that ultimately saved the boys from Bondi.

With just eight minutes remaining in the match and the Roosters leading 18-12, Cronulla's Chad Townsend kicked for Luke Lewis to regather in-goal, only for Mitchell's wrapping hand to jostle the ball free.

Had Lewis scored beside the posts, the match would've been locked-up at 18-18-all.

Roosters captain Jake Friend was gushing in praise for the game-saving play of his younger teammate.

"I love 'Trell' for all the tries that he scores, but those mean a lot more in these big games,'' Friend said.

"To do what he had to, to stop that try was awesome.''

For years, Friend has watched Cronk drive the Melbourne Storm to finals wins and premiership glory.

 

Latrell Mitchell made a potential match-winning tackle on Luke Lewis. (AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts)
Latrell Mitchell made a potential match-winning tackle on Luke Lewis. (AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts)

 

He admitted the Roosters champion halfback was the difference between the two sides in a torrid second-half, which was played in great spirit by both sides.

"He (Cronk) controlled that whole second-half,'' Friend said.

"To kick the way he did, with plenty of pressure, he got whacked a few times, but just kept getting up and getting down there.

"And then to set-up for the field-goal and snap that is pretty classy - it's pretty good to have him on our side.''

 

Joseph Manu crossed for a strong try. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)
Joseph Manu crossed for a strong try. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

 

In a dour contest, the Roosters were forced to come from behind on the scoreboard twice in the match, first after the Sharks led 4-0 nil after six minutes and again behind 12-10 in the 45th minute when Edrick Lee crossed.

With Cronk, fullback James Tedesco was superb and in beating the most experienced side in the finals race, the Roosters proved to everyone on Saturday night they are the real deal.

The TAB immediately installed the Roosters as $2.75 premiership favourites after their win.

 

Wade Graham suffered a suspected ACL injury. (AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts)
Wade Graham suffered a suspected ACL injury. (AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts)

 

It will be a nervous wait for Mitchell who will come under the microscope for an alleged crusher tackle on Josh Dugan in the second-half.

Roosters coach Trent Robinson urged the NRL match review committee to ignore the fact Dugan stayed down after the tackle.

Having watched his side fumble a first-half try scoring play for Feki, then another in the second-half involving Valentine Holmes and finally Lewis, Sharks coach Shane Flanagan said he was confident he could resurrect Cronulla's fortunes against the Panthers.

"If we have the attitude and effort we had tonight, we'll be OK (against Penrith),'' Sharks coach Shane Flanagan said.

"I'm super proud of the way we played tonight.

"If Luke (Lewis) gets that ball down, we could be winning the game. That's how close it was.''

 

 

 

 

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