Emotion headlined the game’s opening stanza, and not of the aggressive kind. Mitch Aubusson had just become the Sydney Roosters’ games record holder, and rose to the occasion.
Just as he’d run through his makeshift guard of honour minutes earlier, the Roosters milestone man Aubusson ran through the Sharks’ line to open the scoring with a touching try.
Keen to spoil the party, Shaun Johnson made for a quick reply with his 23rd try assist of the season, his flat ball isolating Siosifa Talakai with the slighter Kyle Flanagan, and a tied game the outcome.
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Daniel Tupou came up trumps from a desperate in-goal wrestle with Sione Katoa. The 22nd minute converted try along with Flanagan’s earlier penalty goal, stretched Sydney’s lead to eight.
Fancy footwork from Isaac Liu dismembered Cronulla’s line and sent him storming through the backfield, calling on support runner Luke Keary to finish the job.
With a whitewash beckoning, Angus Crichton’s ingoal-bound grubber wreaked havoc, 303-gamer Aubusson emerging from the tangle with a first-half double.
It was meant to be
An ad-lib scramble of a set from Cronulla culminated in Ronaldo Mulitalo spectacularly soaring over the stripe to breathe life into the Sharks and close out a high-scoring six-try half.
Scoring was subdued for the most part of the second half, with a host of finals-threatening injuries compounding the Sharks’ loss.
A suspected snapped Achilles tendon to Shaun Johnson, a dislocated knee cap to Royce Hunt, and a hyperextended knee to Josh Dugan did Cronulla no favours: not only for tonight, but also heading into finals.
Johnson's season could be over
In the 55th minute, Keary reaped the rewards of his support running for the second time of the night, this time benefitting from Brett Morris’ touchline tip-toeing, mere blades of grass the difference between turnover and try.
Braden Hamlin-Uele was able to ignite Cronulla’s comeback chances, finally converting their territory control into currency: with the four points turned into six after stand-in kicker Sione Katoa converted.
The idea of a comeback was entertained for the best part of four minutes, before Joseph Manu quashed the Sharks’ hopes, sneaking an outstretched hand into the in-goal to seal the result.
Try scorer Manu was sent to the bin minutes later, but it had little effect on the match’s outcome, with the Tricolours itching to close out the game and continue their celebration of ‘ultimate clubman’ Aubusson.