NRL: Sharks one win away from grand final

Chad Townsend of the Sharks watches on as Jack Bird and Valentine Holmes celebrate Holmes scoring a try. Photo / Getty
Chad Townsend of the Sharks watches on as Jack Bird and Valentine Holmes celebrate Holmes scoring a try. Photo / Getty

A 75th-minute penalty goal from James Maloney took Cronulla to a memorable 16-14 comeback win over Canberra and within one game of the grand final.

Maloney kept dreams of a maiden premiership alive tonight when he calmly broke a 14-14 deadlock with a 25m shot after Raiders second-rower Elliot Whitehead was pinged for a high tackle.

It was an impressive effort from the Sharks, who had captain Paul Gallen ruled out on game day with a back injury and then lost second-rower Wade Graham seven minutes into the match.

"I thought I'd killed a Chinaman," Sharks coach Shane Flanagan said. "I thought our bad luck had come at the wrong time of the year."

They also fell behind 12-0 after 20 minutes, and appeared to be at the mercy of a white-hot Raiders side who had all the early momentum in front of the sellout 25,292 home crowd at GIO Stadium.

But the Sharks held the home side to just two points for the final hour to get a week off before facing the winner of next week's semifinal between last year's grand finalists Brisbane and North Queensland.

The Raiders host the winner of tomorrow's Panthers-Bulldogs elimination final, however nervously await the status of hooker Josh Hodgson, who came off with a second-half ankle injury and left the stadium in a moon boot.

The Dally M Medal contender, who scored the Raiders' first try, was carried off the field after getting whacked by a stray boot from team-mate Aidan Sezer in the 43rd minute.

"He's crook," coach Ricky Stuart said. "I don't know [how bad it is]. We've got to get scans and that. I'll name him to play next week, but he's very doubtful."

Hodgson has not only been one of the Raiders' best this season, but is arguably the competition's leading dummy-half and, to make matters worse for the Raiders, whose 10-game winning streak came to an end against the Sharks, fellow playmaker Blake Austin is still recovering from a broken hand suffered at training.

The five-eighth backed himself for a return next week, but Stuart won't make a call until closer to game day.

The Raiders, who finished the season in second and are chasing their first title in 22 years, haven't reached the playoffs since 2012.

Sezer had a chance to nail a field goal in the 73rd minute, but fired wide, leaving the door open for the Sharks to surge upfield and secure victory.

Canberra were relentless for the opening half hour. Big men Josh Papalii, Shannon Boyd and Joey Leilua made plenty of early inroads into the Sharks' defence, including one Leilua run that left Graham dazed in the seventh minute. But the Sharks, who went into the match having lost four of their previous five games, withstood the barrage and took another step closer to a first title.

Sharks 16 (V. Holmes, M. Prior tries; J. Maloney 4 goals)
Raiders 14 (J. Hodgson, J. Rapana tries; J. Croker 3 goals)
Halftime: 12-6.


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