Sharks woes pile up with loss to Raiders
The Cronulla Sharks' week from hell went from bad to worse as the Canberra Raiders inflicted more pain on the trouble-stricken club in a battle for the NRL wooden spoon on Sunday.
In a week of nightmares, player suspensions and an ASADA fiasco, the defiant and undermanned Sharks fought as hard as they could before falling 22-12 at Remondis Stadium.
The Raiders' win means they will likely avoid just the second wooden spoon in the Green Machine's proud history.
But the Sharks will spend the next two weeks trying to restore some pride in what will go down as one of the most painful years for the Cronulla club.
ASADA suspended 12 past and present NRL players last week following a drawn out investigation into the Sharks' disastrous 2011 supplements program.
Inspirational captain Paul Gallen and Anthony Tupou were among the players who reluctantly accepted back-dated bans for the last three games of the season to ensure they can return to action from the end of November.
But charged up on emotion, the thrown-together Sharks refused to fall apart in a dour first half.
They led 6-0 at the break and the crowd turned on former mentor Ricky Stuart.
But in an ugly match between the competition's worst two teams, departing star Anthony Milford turned on a second-half clinic, setting up two tries and scoring two more to lift the Raiders to victory.
The Raiders are now two points clear of the Sharks at the bottom of the ladder, but beating the Sharks will only temporarily smooth over the cracks at the club.
The Raiders are having their worst year in recent seasons and need to win both of their last two home games to ensure they don't record the worst record at Canberra Stadium in history.
The Sharks showed no signs of an ASADA hangover to start the game, peppering their try line for the first eight minutes of the game.
They went within inches of scoring, but a morale-boosting try fell from their grasp as they squandered two perfect chances to start with a bang in their last home game of the year.
It was built as the battle for last place on the ladder and it lived up to the hype - both teams failing to make an impact on the scoreboard and making simple errors.
With no score after 20 minutes, commentator Greg Alexander said: "After the first part of this game, there's no surprise these two teams are down the bottom of the ladder."
The crowd was so disenchanted fans started calling for the players to take a field goal attempt to break the deadlock.
But the telling moment of the first half came just four minutes from the break, when Blake Ayshford slipped through a gap and his wayward pass somehow found Sosaia Feki who scored the opening try in the corner.
It got worse for the Raiders two minutes later when makeshift fullback Jack Wighton spilled the ball in his own ingoal.
The passionate Cronulla crowd turned to Ricky Stuart's coaching box and unleashed abuse at the club's former mentor when Wighton dropped the ball.
They then belted out a "Sharkies" chant with their team leading 6-0 at the break and edging closer to the most unlikely win of the season.
The Sharks had two players on debut after a nightmare week which dragged the club's name through the mud.
Five current players - including Paul Gallen and Anthony Tupou - were suspended as part of the ASADA fiasco, with a further seven past Sharks also suspended.
The Raiders finally forced their way into the contest when Anthony Milford grubbered into the ingoal and Matt McIlwrick dived on the loose ball to level the score.
It was hardly champagne rugby league, but it was effective as the Raiders tried to prevent a massive boilover in the Shire.
Jarrod Croker then scored his 18th try for the season to put the Raiders in front and the Sharks' resistence started to wilt and when Croker and Milford combined for the next try, the result was all but certain.
Croker has scored 18 tries this season and he has now passed Raiders great Mal Meninga on the club's all-time scoring tally, with 870 points putting him third on the list behind Clinton Schifcofske and David Furner.
But any plans to celebrate his milestone were put on hold when Tim Robinson barged his way over from close range to cut the gap just four points and give the Sharks a glimmer of hope with just 14 minutes left in the game.
But Milford cruelly hit back against the defiant Sharks moments later when he raced through to pounce on a kick.
The Brisbane Broncos-bound star played a hand in all four of the Raiders' tries, scoring two and setting up two more.