HE’LL have no say in whether Queensland loses an Origin series for the first time in eight years but in his 150th first grade game, Todd Carney probably consigned Brisbane to missing the finals for only the second time in 21 seasons.
Wearing blue against maroon – but not playing for the Blues against the Maroons after missing the selection boat – – the Cronulla five-eighth and former Dally M winner set up three second half tries but his 75th minute field goal provided the ultimate difference in a victory against the Broncos at Suncorp Stadium
The former Canberra and Sydney Roosters talisman put fullback Michael Gordon over in the 58th minute and then raced into the clear to put second rower Jayson Bukuya away seven minutes later.
It was Carney’s bomb which Corey Norman spilt with seven minutes left, allowing Sharks wingman Sosaia Feki to register what seemed to be the clincher. All three tries were converted by the former NSW pivot, who added a 75th minute field goal from 30 metres out.
Not even the withdrawal of skipper Paul Gallen and a shoulder injury to his stand-in Wade Graham midway through the first half could prevent picking up their ninth victory of the season.
It promises to be a subdued occasion at Brisbane Convention Centre on Saturday night when the Broncos mark their 25th anniversary at a black tie ball. It is shaping as their worst season in that time.
The first half was scoreless but that didn’t make it featureless. The Sharks lost Graham at the 17-minute mark.The best scoring opportunity for either side in the opening 40 minutes came early, Todd Carney appearing to put winger Nathan Stapleton over in south-western corner before play was called back for a forward pass.
Brisbane looked disorganised initially – big prop David Hala contributed a grubber kick at one point – but soon found their feet and created marginally more opportunities in the first half.
Corey Oates and Lachlan Maranta flew high chasing a Peter Wallace kick in the 15th minute but neither could cleanly reclaim the Steeden.
After Graham’s departure, his team-mate Bryce Gibbs took prop rival Josh McGuire high in a shot that looked spectacular but was not placed on report by referees Matt Cecchin and Luke Phillips.
While Brisbane were showing a little more enterprise in centrefield, enterprise on the fringes meant Cronulla went close to scoring more often.
When five-eighth Carney released Johnathan Wright on the eastern touchline, the centre kicked ahead and ran out-of-bounds in pursuit of his kick. Scott Prince raced back to save the day as Wright bore down on the ball in the Broncos’ in-goal.
There was a spectacular individual piece of play from Cronulla fullback Michael Gordon when he fielded a bomb under intense pressure in the north-eastern corner at 35 minutes and proceeded to make a weaving 35 metre run upfield.
Oates, playing only his second first grade game, was impressive. He pulled off a number of big hits and also took a Carney kick in heavy traffic.
Oates managed to cross the stripe for Brisbane in the 77th minute and Jordan Kahu posted another with a minute left it but by then a chant of “Sharkies, Sharkies” was drowning out local fans in the 25,677 crowd.
CRONULLA 19 (J Bukuya S Feki M Gordon tries T Carney 3 goals T Carney field goal) bt BRISBANE 18 (J Hoffman J Kahu C Oates tries S Prince 3 goals) at Suncorp Stadium. Referee: Matt Cecchin, Luke Phillips. Crowd: 25,677.
Filed for: SYDNEY MORNING HERALD