The Cronulla Sharks ensured veteran Paul Gallen's career will go on for another week after booking a spot in the NRL playoffs with a 25-8 win over the Wests Tigers last night.
Gallen even got to mark his final regular season match with his first ever field goal in the final stages of the match, which was effectively a knockout game with the winner booking seventh spot on the ladder. The Sharks will now head to Manly to face the Sea Eagles in the first elimination final on Saturday night with Parramatta hosting eighth-placed Brisbane in the second elimination final on Sunday.
The finals will kick off with the oldest rivalry in the competition as the second-placed Sydney Roosters and third-placed South Sydney Rabbitohs clash at the Sydney Cricket Ground on Friday night in a qualifying final. Minor premiers the Melbourne Storm will host the fourth-placed Raiders on Saturday night, looking to exact revenge after falling to Canberra at home in round 22.
Leading 6-4 at halftime at Leichhardt Oval, the Sharks scored three second-half tries, all converted by Shaun Johnson, to consign the Tigers to an eighth straight year of missing the finals. As Gallen's career lived on for one more week it was farewell for Tigers great Robbie Farah who was a surprise inclusion to the Tigers' match-day squad. Farah was initially ruled out after failing to recover from a broken leg in time, but after a late withdrawal of Corey Thompson in warm-ups, he donned the 21 jersey for his 303rd NRL game. However, by the time he took the field midway through the second half, trailing 24-4, a victory was well out of reach.
With time almost up Gallen lined up 18 metres out from right in front of the uprights to kick a field goal, to go with his 25 tackles and 75 run metres, capping off a spot in the finals for the fifth straight year.
"Thankfully today we put in an 80 minute performance going into the finals. If we want to be the team we think we can be, that's just what we've got to do," Gallen said after the win.
It is the third time in four years the Tigers have finished ninth.
"A lot of emotions. It's been a crazy day to be honest," Farah, a member of the 2005 Tigers premiership side, said after playing out the final moments of his career.
"I came here full of nerves because I wasn't playing as the result was out of my control. And then out in the warm-up got the call and had to get my head around it. Madge [coach Michael Maguire] said bring your boots just in case, so I brought my boots. To get 30 minutes was nice. I never thought I get another chance here but a very disappointing result. It all comes to an end today. Again we've fallen just short — it's been eight years of that. This crowd goes home pretty disappointed, as do we."
In the final match of the regular season the Penrith Panthers finished in style with a 54-10 thrashing of the Newcastle Knights. Halfback Nathan Cleary scored four tries and kicked nine from nine off the tee to finish with a club record 34 points — the seventh highest points tally for a player in a NRL game. The win saw the Panthers leapfrog Newcastle into 10th position, but one point outside of the top eight after finishing fifth and reaching the semifinals last year.
NRL playoffs Week 1
●2-Sydney Roosters v 3-South Sydney Rabbitohs, Friday, 9.50pm
●1-Melbourne Storm v 4-Canberra Raiders, Saturday, 7.40pm
●6-Manly Sea Eagles v 7-Cronulla Sharks, Saturday, 9.50pm
●5-Parramatta Eels v 8-Brisbane Broncos, Sunday, 6.05pm