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‘Wild old night’ sees Tom Burgess sent off, Latrell miss three field goals and Hynes the hero for Sharks

Craig Fitzgibbon has described his relief after a ‘wild old night’ at Cronulla, with the Sharks downing Souths 21-20 after a golden point period that saw Tom Burgess sent off for a high tackle, Latrell Mitchell miss three field goal attemps and Nicho Hynes ice his – but only after Matt Moylan had also missed twice.

In the NRL week that has had everything, perhaps we should have expected the unexpected. Certainly, few could have predicted a finish like this.

“We got it done in the end,” said Fitzgibbon. “It was a wild old night, filled with many different things. To hang in there was a really tough performance and I couldn’t be prouder to get away with a win. It was enjoyable – at the end.”

Burgess was charged on Sunday morning with a grade-two careless high tackle and faces a ban of 1-2 weeks.

Such was the chaos that a send off late into the second period of extra time, a try that moved Alex Johnston into the all time top ten list, a heartwarming try that saw Andrew Fifita roll back the years and be cheered from the rafters, Ronaldo Mulitalo scoring one of the tries of the season and a bunker controversy that forced the game into golden point barely merit a mention.

On top of that, perhaps most amazingly, it wasn’t even that good a game. For long periods it was tense but slow, with Jason Demetriou angered by the speed of the ruck that was allowed by the referees.

“We were playing off a slow play the ball,” said the Souths coach. “Sitting in the box watching it, I thought we went back 10 years with how slow the peel was. I know for a fact that we were half a second slower at the ruck compared to them.

“I’d have to look at it but that was the live data that we were getting, we’ll have to wait until the final data comes through.”

Neither coach had a great view of the send off: almost as soon as it happened, it was overtaken by events with the Sharks winning the game within a minute.

“I was on the sideline at the time and obviously there’s a lot of noise,” said Demetriou. “Tommy is coming across to make a tackle. I didn’t see the replay either so I can’t comment as I didn’t see it properly.”

Ftizgibbon added that it wasn’t even in his mind: “I was trying to strategise in the box, and come up with what we were going to do: were we going for a one or go for a try?

“I didn’t even look at it. I saw what happened and was quickly on the two-way with DJ (assistant coach Daniel Holdsworth) about what we needed to do.”

After everything, the result strengthens the Sharks’ top four claims, both by moving Cronulla back a win ahead of Melbourne and by diminishing the threat of Souths. Had the Bunnies won, they would have drawn level on 26 points. Instead, they are now rank outsiders for the top four.

Both coaches praised their team’s performances, with Demetriou standing by Mitchell, who had three eminently kickable attempts to win the game that were spurned.

(Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

“He’s dirty,” said the Souths coach. “That’s a moment he nails a lot of the time. He’s disappointed but it’s not on him. There’s 80 minutes of footy that went before that point.

“It was a battle of two good sides. It was to-ing and fro-ing and I’m really proud of the boys to stick in there and get back to 20-all. It was a special effort.”

“We handled extra time pretty well, we just didn’t nail our chances. I said to the boys that I think there’s a few things in defence that we need to tighten up, but if we do that, we’re probably not under the pressure that we’re under at the end.”

Fitzgibbon was impressed with the way that his team backed up from a difficult task last weekend in defeat at Penrith.

“It was a big week last week going out to Penrith,” said Fitzgibbon. “Everyone is talking about the month that we’ve had and we chipped up a bit on last week and got ourselves ready to play.

“When you do that and don’t quite earn the result, sometimes the week after you can be a bit flat, but I thought the guys trained exceptionally well this week and we carried parts of last week into tonight: hanging in there, keeping turning up and playing for each other.”

Nicho Hynes celebrates. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

It was the strangest of contests. These are clearly two good sides, but it would be hard to say that either were anywhere near their best.

When Souths were on, they looked superb, but struggled to string more than ten minutes of pressure together at a time.

Their set ends were often poor, with Lachlan Ilias caught twice on the last, and on other occasions, they seemed simply unwilling to throw the ball in their characteristic manner.

Plenty of the credit for that can go to Cronulla. Their ability to change momentum, particularly through the kicking of Hynes and the hard carries of their backs, brought them back into the game.

They would then fade out of it through errors. The Sharks made ten in the second half alone, inviting their opponents back in when it would have been possible to close the game out.

Both sides struggled with injuries. Jed Cartwright departed with a hamstring issue, forcing a reshuffle that put Kodi Nikorima to fullback and Mitchell to the centre.

The Sharks lost Royce Hunt after 15 minutes and Fifita and Wade Graham for periods to concussion tests.

Souths flew out of the blocks. They put an early two on the board via a Mitchell penalty goal, before Johnston got his now-obligatory try at the corner on the left side. He got a near-obligatory new record, too, moving into the all time top ten for tryscorers.

Souths then ceded momentum totally. From the moment Johnston crossed to half time, they had 40% of the ball and a third of the territory.

It took a while for the Sharks to strike, but once they did, they barely left the Bunnies’ end. They unveiled their favourite move, a deep right shift with men in motion that got Connor Tracey outside Johnston and into the corner.

Souths’ goalline was holding up pretty well. They repelled near-constant attack, leaving Cronulla with just a penalty goal for Hynes to show for their efforts.

It was going to take something seriously special to breach the line, and it came via Mulitalo. Hynes floated a kick that came down on top of Lachlan Ilias, and the winger rose high, hung in the air and plummeted to earth for one of the most spectacular tries of the year.

Though Cronulla went to the break 14-8 ahead, they might have thought that it should have been more. Certainly, when Mitchell touched down just minutes into the second half, they will have been thinking that.

Just like the first half, however, Souths faded ten minutes in. Cam McInnes went close, but knocked on as he stretched for the line, but moments later, Fifita rolled back the years with a bustling, battering ram try.

Fifita was then taken off for a dubious HIA – the man himself, who had the crowd cheering his every move, was less than impressed – and it kicked South Sydney back into gear.

They swept right to left and got Walker free, before pinning Hynes next to a post. The Bunnies flew into tackles and forced the Sharks to kick from their own 20.

They never relinquished the field position and, after building patiently, dropped Junior Tatola on an inside line to level the scores. The home fans screamed for a double movement, but the bunker let it stand.

In golden point, Mitchell and Moylan both had two attempts go wide, forcing a second half of extra time. Burgess made a huge break to present another chance, but Mitchell, again, made a meal of it.

As the Sharks returned the ball up the field, they hit to the left, broke the line through Mulitalo and as he looked to go clear, Burgess blindsided him high.

The England prop was sent from the field, Cronulla kicked into position and Hynes did the rest.

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