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Walker field goal sees Roosters advance over Sharks

Author: 

Corey Rosser, NRL Reporter

Across an 80 minutes in which they had to overcome the second-half sin-binning of captain James Tedesco and the loss of backline stars Joseph Manu and Joseph-Aukuso Suaali'i to injuries, the Roosters charged down two field goals in the dying minutes which would likely have sent the game to golden point, after Walker had put them in front with a clutch drop goal. 

Making it all the more impressive, Walker was playing through an ankle injury which earlier in the game had him in visible discomfort. 

The Tricolours' sixth-straight win sets up a meeting with the Storm in Melbourne next week, while the Sharks become the first side eliminated from the 2023 Finals Series.

Earlier the Roosters appeared to have squandered their chance to advance when they gave up six points during a 10-minute period in which Tedesco sat watching helplessly from the bin, while fellow backline members Suaali'i , Manu and Billy Smith – who was undergoing a HIA he'd later pass – were off the field. 

But they rallied to hit back through Siua Wong, with Billy Smith, just back on the field and standing in for Walker who appeared to be nursing a leg injury, converting to make it 12-12 with 10 to play.

Minutes later Walker, who has returned to play a key late-season role for his side after being dropped earlier in the year before overcoming a knee injury which sidelined him for several months, stepped up to nail what would be the winning play. 

In the opening exchanges both sides had chances that were ruled out by the Bunker, before Sione Katoa grabbed a floating cut-out from Nicho Hynes to score the first.

Crucially, Braydon Trindall missed the ensuing conversion, which coupled with a later miss from Nicho Hynes would play a huge role in Cronulla's season ending. 

A high tackle which saw Walker placed on report then gifted Cronulla with a penalty next to the posts, with Hynes taking over kicking duties following Trindall's blunder. 

After the break Manu scored to tie things up, before a long-range intercept from Trindall ended a promising Roosters raid in the 52nd minute and led to Tedesco committing a professional foul.

While he was in the bin Ronaldo Mulitalo scored and Hynes booted a penalty to establish a six-point lead which looked like it could be enough to win the game, until the Roosters' gutsy reply which saw Wong score and makeshift kicker Billy Smith convert. 

Enter the late drama, with two charge downs from Tedesco and then Luke Keary just as crucial as Walker's field goal minutes earlier. 

The Sharks were left to rue poor goal-kicking and a blown chance for Blayke Brailey in the second half, which saw him drop the ball over the line without a defender near him. 

The Roosters will still have plenty to worry about this week, with Manu in doubt for Finals Week Two after aggravating his existing hamstring injury and Suaali'i likely to be out due to a head knock. 

Match Snapshot 

  • Sam Walker went on report for a dangerous tackle in the 19th minute.
  • Tom Hazleton was cited three minutes into the second half for a dangerous tackle that resulted in Billy Smith undergoing a HIA which he passed. 
  • Joseph-Aukuso Suaali'i was ruled out at half-time with delayed concussion symptoms, while Joseph Manu reaggravated the hamstring injury which saw him miss Round 27 midway through the second half. Walker also picked up an ankle injury but was able to play on. 
  • Hazleton was hospitalised after leaving the field early in the second half with an abdominal injury. 
  • The Sharks missed 57 tackles on the night, compared to the Roosters who missed 36.
  • Despite spending 10 minutes in the bin, James Tedesco had a game-high 202 metres from 18 carries. 
  • The game was the last of Sharks captain Wade Graham's career, with the back-rower retiring at the conclusion of the 2023 season. 
  • Sharks winger Ronaldo Mulitalo has now scored 27 tries in 25 games at PointsBet Stadium.

Play of the Game

All effort when the Roosters needed it most. This desperate charge down from Luke Keary came seconds after his captain had pulled off a similar move and on each occasion they likely saved the game from going to golden point. 

What They Said 

"Fine margins, some moments, decisions [cost us]. But from where we were at the midpoint of the season I am proud of how we've ended up to this point. Obviously I am disappointed about tonight, but I think we are starting to grow up as a footy team and things that everybody has been happy to criticise us about, I think we're starting to address those." – Sharks coach Craig Fitzgibbon. 

"The footy can be improved a lot, but the spirit that we played with, that was top end. There was lot of reasons not to win that game and I felt like the spirit grew the more changes [happened], the more chaos that got created in that game the more the players grew, they got calmer, they got really focused on some key areas that we probably weren't in the first half." – Roosters coach Trent Robinson.

What's Next 

The Roosters now advance to take on the Storm in Melbourne, with the winner of that game securing a place in the preliminary finals. For the Sharks the season is over after crashing out of the finals within the first two weeks for the second year in a row. 

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