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Walsh magic leaves Sharks' season on brink

Date

Adrian Proszenko

Cronulla 20 Penrith 21 (golden-point)

Pure gold ... the Panthers celebrate last night.

Pure gold ... the Panthers celebrate last night. Photo: Getty Images

LUKE Walsh had two opportunities to kick the match-winner last night. He didn't miss twice.

MATCH STATS

But the question remains - should he have got the chance?

Surging ahead ... Tim Grant.

Surging ahead ... Tim Grant. Photo: Getty Images

In one of the most dramatic and controversial finishes to a game this year, the Penrith halfback kicked a golden-point field goal to defeat an injury-ravaged Cronulla outfit at Toyota Stadium.

With the game seemingly decided, NSW speedster Michael Jennings scored with 34 seconds left to level the scores and give Walsh a chance to kick a deciding conversion from out wide. He missed and the game went into extra time.

However, the play was only possible after the visitors got the ball back from a short Penrith kick-off which found touch. There was doubt over whether the ball travelled the required 10 metres.

Golden boot ... Luke Walsh kicks the winning field goal to down the Sharks.

Golden boot ... Luke Walsh kicks the winning field goal to down the Sharks. Photo: Getty Images

A ''devastated'' Colin Best raised another concern - the veteran centre claimed the ball was also touched by Penrith forward Cameron Ciraldo. ''When it hit the ground, it bounced up and clipped his hands on the way through,'' Best told The Sun-Herald. ''It didn't even go the 10 [metres] - there's no way it went the 10.''

Had the call gone in favour of the Sharks, they would have secured one of the gutsiest wins in their 49-year history. Instead, they suffered a third straight loss to put their finals hopes on a knife edge.

Predictably, the protagonists held the company lines. Sharks skipper Jeremy Smith said it didn't travel the required distance. His coach, Shane Flanagan, offered: ''It was straight in front of our bench. The doctors, physios, players all insisted it didn't go the 10.''

Penrith counterpart Ivan Cleary thought it did but conceded ''it was obviously a close thing''. And while referees boss Bill Harrigan will conduct a thorough review tomorrow, he said: ''I was actually in the stand in line with it and the ball passed the plane of the 10 metres. After that, where it bounces is irrelevant.''

The result gave Penrith back-to-back wins for the first time this year, while the Sharks drop to seventh on the ladder. Flanagan admitted their finals place was in jeopardy.

''Yep, our backs are against the wall now,'' he said.

''We need to get some big scalps on the way home but we'll have some troops back.''

They came in with no Paul Gallen. No Todd Carney. No Wade Graham. Seemingly no chance. When you consider that Bryce Gibbs, Ben Pomeroy, Stewart Mills, Nathan Gardner and Josh Cordoba were also in the Cronulla casualty ward, it was a mighty effort to get so close.

Carney was the difference between the sides when they met in March. On that occasion, the NSW playmaker slotted a 41-metre field goal to seal the deal. This was an equally tight affair as the lead changed half a dozen times.

Lachlan Coote, the fifth pivot used by Cleary this year, scored two tries. He would have bagged a third had he not bounced the ball on the try line just three minutes in. He was the best player on the field.

Asked if the fullback had found a permanent home as a five-eighth, Cleary said: ''He's making all the right moves to start for a guy who hasn't played [there] much.

''He's really added to the team … in the last couple of weeks. You'd like to think he'll only get better, so maybe.''

PENRITH 21 (L Coote 2 M Jennings M Robinson tries L Walsh 2 goals L Walsh field goal) bt CRONULLA 20 (R Leutele 2 T Frizell J Robson tries C Townsend 2 goals) in golden-point extra time at Toyota Stadium. Referee: Gavin Badger, Steve Lyons. Crowd: 7,848.

 

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MAN vs MEL 19:00BO
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