The Sharks scored three cracking tries in eight minutes to record a stunning 36-26 win over the Broncos to keep their top-four hopes alive and consign the hosts to finals oblivion.
The Broncos led 26-18 late in proceedings at Suncorp Stadium on the back of a masterclass by veteran fullback Darius Boyd after his return to the position for the first time since round 16 last year.
The Sharks weren’t interested in giving Boyd a fairytale story though with Shaun Johnson and Wade Graham taking control in the closing stages.
Tries to Sione Katoa, Connor Tracey and Braden Hamlin-Uele clinched the win for Cronulla and handed the Broncos a ninth loss in their past 10 games.
Graham chased a short drop-out and pressured Tom Dearden to regain possession for his side just before the Katoa try. It was a massive play and turned the game.
“It was typical of Wado. If you look closely at our games the last few weeks you’d see a lot of plays like that in his game,” coach John Morris said.
“He is starting to dictate with his defence and come up with big plays like that. That was the game changer wasn’t it. Short drop-out, we get the ball back and score that set and then score two more tries late. Definitely, on the back of our skipper it propelled us into that last 10 minutes.”
Cronulla had centre Jackson Ferris and half Braydon Trindall on debut and the young and patched together side did their coach John Morris proud with big guns Jesse Ramien, Chad Townsend, Josh Dugan, Matt Moylan and Andrew Fifita all out.
Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
The Sharks scored first when Ronaldo Mulitalo raced 60 metres to score after a Kotoni Staggs pass went astray.
The Broncos’ propensity to offload promised to get their second-phase play going and that is what happened when Tevita Pangai Jnr offloaded for a flying Herbie Farnworth to go close.
A left-to-right sweeping play was iced by a Boyd pass to send Kotoni Staggs over, with the proud Wiradjuri man celebrating with a dance of pure joy.
The Broncos fluffed their lines on the final play on several occasions when they had field position and the Sharks made them pay.
Cronulla hooker Blayke Brailey unveiled his box of tricks as he darted across field and showed the ball to a couple of attackers before finding a barnstorming Siosifa Talakai who trampled Payne Haas to score.
Xavier Coates ignited the next set for the Broncos with a line break. Haas, Pangai and Pat Carrigan, who were enormous for Brisbane, rumbled forward before the crafty Jake Turpin sent a determined Rhys Kennedy over to cut the Sharks lead to 12-10.
Milford then hit the ‘go’ button with his trademark jinking zig-zag at pace. Boyd delivered a classic catch-and-pass in one motion to put Richie Kennar over in the corner and give the Broncos a 14-12 lead.
The Broncos lost the ball from the restart and Johnson deceived Brisbane by linking brilliantly with fullback Will Kennedy.
Jackson Ferris’s dancing feet at speed did the rest and the Sharks led 18-14 at the break.
Boyd was brilliant at the start of the second half with his defence and reading of the play saving the Broncos as the Sharks pummelled their line for four sets of six. Dearden and Staggs made trysavers on Johnson and Mulitalo in the best Broncos defensive sequence of the year.
The Broncos hit back at the other end through more Milford and Boyd magic with the veteran fullback sending Kennar in for his second out wide and Brisbane ahead 20-18.
Boyd then notched his fourth try assist for the night and the footwork and power of Staggs did the rest for his seventh try in six games.
The Sharks weren’t done and a brilliant Johnson pass to Kennedy was quickly moved on to Sione Katoa to get Cronulla back within two.
Graham then put his hand up for the Sharks as he swung the play to the left on the last play and Mulitalo, at pace, put a sensational kick in-field from the outside of his boot for interchange utility Tracey to score the match-winner.
A bullocking Hamlin-Uele surged over in the 79th minute to seal a memorable win and take Cronulla temporarily into fifth position on the ladder.
Given they had ventured into enemy territory with nine players who had less than 20 games of NRL experience the win could well prove season-defining for John Morris’s men.
Brisbane Broncos, National Rugby League, Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks, Anthony Seibold
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