Sharks spoil Tigers' party to seal finals berth
Robbie's finished, Gal's alive.
In a day of high drama at a jammed Leichhardt Oval, Cronulla steamrolled Wests Tigers 25-8 to book a sudden-death final against Manly on Saturday night at Brookvale Oval.
Retiring Sharks skipper Paul Gallen's premiership dream remains alive for at least another week. And to totally insult Wests Tigers, Gallen kicked a rare field-goal inside the final minute.
Defeat sent hapless Wests Tigers crashing out of finals contention for an eighth successive season. Not even the acquisition of a premiership-winning coach, Michael Maguire, could take Wests Tigers to the Promised Land this season.
And the loss ended the stellar career of Wests Tigers hooker Robbie Farah, who has now retired.
Playing in front of hysterical and expectant home crowd of 19,491, Wests Tigers blew it. Ahead just 6-4 at half-time, Cronulla scored three tries in seven minutes early in the second half to secure a matchwinning lead.
Despite a modest season, the Sharks are now playing finals footy against an injury-ravaged Manly side. And leading from the front, yet again, will be the relentless Gallen in his 348th NRL match.
Given their star-studded roster - which includes NSW stars Gallen, Josh Dugan, Wade Graham, Aaron Wood, Andrew Fifita and Josh Morris - there is no reason why Cronulla cannot inflict some heavy duty damage in the finals.
Cronulla has now made the finals for the past five years.
Wests Tigers fans were filthy at the performance of referee Ben Cummins but the home side's defensive deficiencies let them down at the worst possible time - in the final round.
Twice previously - in 2007 (versus Raiders) and 2016 (versus Rabbitohs) - Wests Tigers crumbled in the final round at Leichhardt to miss a finals position. It happened again yesterday.
This was the sixth time Wests Tigers have finished ninth.
The Tigers haven't played finals footy since 2011 - a lousy effort. Despite missing the finals there is a feeling that Maguire - once he completes a salary cap revamp - has this club on a path to sustained success.
Gutted Wests Tigers fans started filing out of Leichhardt with five minutes remaining to once against book holidays for September.
FARAH SOAP OPERA
Farah was officially ruled out pre-game and named 19th man just after lunch-time on Sunday.
Yet in dramatic pre-game scenes, fullback Corey Thompson injured his ankle in the warm-up with Farah told he was playing just 11 minutes before kick off.
Farah literally pulled on his jumper at 1.54pm for a 2.05pm kick-off. Farah fractured his right leg only 28 days ago. Paul Momirovski shifted to fullback, Michael Chee Kam into the centres.
Farah started off the bench, Benji Marshall at dummy half once again. Wests Tigers officials told the media an hour before kick-off that Farah wasn't playing. Even the official team didn't name Farah in the top 17.
Farah and Josh Reynolds - playing his150th NL game - led Wests Tigers out. It sent the crowd into a frenzy, Farah thrown into the game in the 55th minute.
The Farah circus overlooked what looked to be the final appearance at Leichhardt of club stalwart, Chris Lawrence. Sharks prop and former Wests Tigers star Aaron Woods was jeered with each touch of the ball.
There is something very special about Leichhardt Oval. Locals call it the Eighth Wonder of the World. Who could argue?
Queue's to gain entry Sunday snaked hundreds of metres, the Wayne Pearce Hill full an hour before kick-off. Suburban grounds with a 2pm kick-off - this is what rugby league is all about.
Tigers legends Steve Roach, Ben Elias and Garry Jack were spotted at Leichhardt Oval. Jack tweeted: "Bring it on…these are the best days of our lives! Go the Tigers."
Former champion Souths halfback Craig Coleman also took to social media: "Great days."
The old girl was heaving. The colour, the roar, the passion, the venue - Leichhardt, we love you.
CRONULLA 25 (S Feki 2 J Morris B Nikora tries S Johnson 4 goals P Gallen field goal) bt WESTS TIGERS 8 (L Garner try P Momirovski 2 goals) at Leichhardt Oval. Referee: Ben Cummins, Peter Gough. Crowd: 19,491