Todd Carney is certain to be ruled out of State of Origin contention in a further blow for the Blues less than 24 hours after incumbent five-eighth James Maloney damaged his shoulder.
Carney limped from the field after scoring a try in the 16th minute in Cronulla’s 24-20 come-from-behind win against Penrith at Remondis Stadium on Saturday.
It has become an ongoing problem for the Cronulla star, who missed the start of the season with a hamstring tear, which also ruled him out of the Sharks' semi-final last year.
Carney walked straight from the field after he scored a try when he glided across field, before straightening up to catch out a sliding Panthers defence in front of 13,669 people.
Hamstrings were problematic for the Sharks, who welcomed back Anthony Tupou and Beau Ryan from injury but were forced to call Blake Ayshford from the dressing room after Jonathan Wright strained his hamstring in the warm-up.
In Carney’s absence it was halfback Jeff Robson who proved the difference, scoring the match-winning try and setting up two others with his boot.
In a dramatic final 12 minutes, where the lead changed three times, it was Robson who finished off an individual piece of brilliance from Wade Graham in the final three minutes to hand Cronulla their second win of the season.
However, the final result was again plagued by an obstruction ruling which would have given Penrith the win with 58 seconds remaining.
Penrith lock Adam Docker was ruled to have blocked Graham from making a tackle, as Dean Whare scored out wide. The video referee overruled the on-field officials to deny the Panthers a win. Penrith coach Ivan Cleary was left fuming at the decision.
“What we need to do is [check if] the player has made a legitimate attempt,” Cleary said. “It was something I spoke about to the referees’ boss last year. I think we should be able to work out if a player is making a legitimate attempt to make tackles. We don’t want diving in our game. I don’t think it’s that hard to work out.
“In saying that, we didn't do enough to win the game.”
Graham said he had no doubt that he was impeded.
“That’s Ivan mate, he is not out there with the team,” Graham said. “I can’t run through him. He ran into my line. I couldn’t get across him. I knew straight away.''
Only hours after inking a four-year contract extension at the Sharks, Andrew Fifita tried to match that figure with handling errors, as he dropped the ball three times while trying to play it.
Penrith co-captain Peter Wallace laid on the Panthers’ opening try when a cross-field bomb was spilt by Ryan, allowing winger Josh Mansour to score after nine minutes.
The Panthers looked certain for a high-scoring first half when David Simmons finished a quick wide shift – which had Jamal Idris acting as a ballplayer in the middle of the field – at the halfway point of the first half to extend their lead to eight.
But that was where the first-half joy halted for the away side, which had to battle without back-rower Elijah Taylor, who is in doubt for New Zealand after straining a medial ligament in his knee.
A grubber from Robson was fumbled by James Segeyaro and led to Ricky Leutele scoring to give Penrith a 12-10 lead at half-time.
A Michael Gordon penalty goal equalled the scores in the 56th minute before a knock-on error from Whare at dummy-half cost the Panthers a chance to reclaim the lead. Mansour looked to have scored a double when he again outjumped Ryan to score, but the video referee saw Whare’s error on the other side of the field.
A Fifita penalty for laying on opposite prop Tim Grant allowed Jamie Soward to kick a goal from 30 metres out to give the Panthers a two-point lead with 15 minutes remaining.
Robson’s boot provided Gordon with a try before Wallace looked to have snatched victory for the Panthers when he streaked away with six minutes left. Then Robson scored the match winner.
“It was a roller-coaster,” Sharks coach Peter Sharp said. “It was a massive game for us, we knew that in the face of adversity. We can draw breath a little bit and regroup for our next game.”