A Valentine Holmes field-goal in the third minute of golden point extra-time has resigned the Gold Coast Titans a heartbreaking 23-22 loss to the Cronulla Sharks at Cbus Super Stadium.
After leading for a majority of the match the Titans lost David Mead, William Zillman and Nate Myles to injury and found themselves training 22-18 going into the final eight minutes but with only one interchange player left.
However, but they managed to dig deep and score a late try through Anthony Don to force the match into extra-time.
But it was the Sharks who scored the fairytale finish after a strong first defensive set forced the Titans to kick from deep inside their half and gift the Sharks prime attacking position. Led by the experienced Michael Ennis, the Sharks set up for the field goal and got an early ball away to Holmes who came from the wing to calmly slotted the kick to give his side the 23-22 victory.
Crucial errors after the Titans led 14-0 four minutes before half-time proved costly – kicks charged down on the last tackle, a kick-off sent dead in goal and handling errors were too often taken advantage of by the Sharks.
Titans’ coach Neil Henry said after leading for most of the match it was disappointing to lose in golden point extra-time.
“There were quite moments that put us in the golden point position after being 16-4 up,” he said. “
“We opened the door a little bit at different times and we kept opening it and they took advantage and pushed it open to get back into the game, it’s very disappointing that we allowed that to happy,” he said.
“We just had a poor set from the kick-off and we put ourselves under pressure where the field position was with them so they were close enough to have a crack and they got the result.
“The boys battled on, it’s not often you lose outside backs (Mead and Zillman) so we are shuffling people around and then Nate couldn’t come back so we were down to one on the bench.
“We were playing people out of position and we’re hanging in with that and battling on but we still gave them the opportunity to get back in the game.
“There’s not normally many points in Cronulla, they play a grafting game and they’re a side which is difficult to score against as they defend really well and scramble really well, we haven’t been able to rack up too many points against them.
“Most times when you get a penalty shot and two points in possession you take it and rest up, particularly when we were a bit busted out there. I thought we could just keep kicking away by two points which was working for a while.
“We didn’t have much ball at the start off the half, they had six sets attacking our line and we kept them out, I was quite confident that if we kept defending well they wouldn’t score against us.
“We did handle a few positional changes out there for a large part of the game and they got a wobbly kick that went over the crossbar so that’s it, it’s a pretty tight old contest.”
After an arm-wrestle opening 25 minutes, it was the Titans who opened the scoring after Kierran Moseley got a deft ball away to Ryan James to barge across the line and with Aidan Sezer adding the extras the Titans took a 6-0 lead.
The Titans extended their lead in the 32nd minute when some strong online defence forced a Sharks pass to go astray and end up in the hands of David Mead who raced 90 metres down field to score untouched. Sezer converted from the sideline to give the Titans a 12-0 lead.
The Titans were gifted a penalty in front of the posts and opted to take the two points to extend their lead out to 14-0 going into final minutes of the half.
But the Sharks capitalised on the back of a lost possession by Lachlan Burr deep inside their own half to post their first points through winger Valentine Holmes to reduce the Titans half-time lead to 14-4.
The Titans started the second half strongly forcing back-to-back repeat sets and when gifted another penalty in front of the posts and they opted to take the goal to extend the lead out to 16-4 after 45minutes.
It wasn’t all good news for the Titans with Mead coming from the field with a hamstring injury forcing a backline reshuffle with James Roberts going to right wing and David Taylor filling in at right centre.
The Sharks took advantage of their own successive penalties in the 50th minute when Michael Ennis held-up a pass to a barnstorming Luke Lewis to cross next to the posts to give Michael Gordon an easy conversion to reel the score-line back to 16-10 in favour of the Titans.
Ill-discipline by the Sharks continued to gift the Titans easy points with another penalty in-front of the posts after a Lachlan Burr bust gave Sezer a further two points and the Titans a 18-10 lead with 25minutes remaining.
The Sharks responded in the 60th minute after Anthony Don dropped a Jack Bird bomb which bounced up perfectly for Holmes to grab his second try of the night before Gordon added the extras to reduce the Titans lead back to 18-16.
The Titans resulting kick-off went out on the full gifting the Sharks prime attacking position and they looked to have taken advantage when Josh Hoffman fumbled a grubber kick before Blake Ayshford cleaned it up but the video referee ruled he knocked it on in the process of grounding it.
The Titans lost William Zillman from the field with a knee injury forcing a further backline shuffle with Daniel Mortimer slotting in at left centre. Things got worse for the Titans with Myles being forced from the field with a possible concussion.
The Sharks took advantage of the injury-ravaged Titans with Michael Ennis throwing an inside pass to Bird to scoot through some staggered Titans defence to score next to the posts to give Gordon an easy conversion and the Sharks a 22-18 lead with six minutes remaining.
Some heavy defence by the Titans forced a Sharks error and the Titans capitalised with Kane Elgey throwing a brilliant cut-out pass to put Don over in the left corner to tie the scores up at 22-all. Sezer, who had kicked all five goals previously, sent the conversion to the right.
Both sides had one last crack to break the deadlock but were unable to score the advantage and the game headed into extra time.
With Luke Douglas tossing the coin with Myles and Zillman off the field, and he elected to receive the ball. But the Sharks started the first period of extra-time strongly in defence and forced the Titans to kick from deep inside their own half giving them first opportunity at the field goal and they took full advantage when Holmes slotted the kick from in front to give the visitors the 23-22 win.
The Titans have the bye next week before taking on the South Sydney Rabbitohs in a fortnight at Cbus Super Stadium.
Cronulla Sharks 23 (V Holmes 2, L Lewis, J Bird tries; M Gordon 3 goals; V Holmes field-goal) defeated Gold Coast Titans 22 (R James, D Mead, A Don tries; A Sezer 5 goals).