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Toby Rudolf celebrates his barnstorming try for the Sharks.
Cronulla forward Toby Rudolf reminded the Warriors just what they will be missing out on next year after scoring the crucial go-ahead try to end the Kiwi club’s finals dream.
After an error-plagued first half, the Warriors bounced back to hold a two-point lead with seven minutes to play at Jubilee Oval.
However, Rudolf, who earlier this year agreed to play for the Warriors from next season only to back out of the deal, broke their spirits with a barnstorming try. Cronulla flyer Ronaldo Mulitalo then iced the result at the death with his second to seal a 22-14 victory.
Entering the game four points behind Cronulla, the Warriors needed to win to stay in contention for the top eight.
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Instead, it was the Sharks who secured the victory required to guarantee a playoff berth with two games to play, leaving the Warriors to round out their courageous campaign against Canberra and Manly before they can finally return home.
For the second time this season, former Warriors star Shaun Johnson came back to haunt his old club.
Handed the captaincy following Wade Graham’s suspension – a career first for the 30-year-old – Johnson responded with a big first half and was instrumental in the Sharks’ late surge.
The Warriors, meanwhile, will be left ruing an ill-disciplined display, particularly in the first half when the size of the occasion seemed to get the better of them.
It was certainly not the performance we had become accustomed to over the last eight weeks, with the side coughing up seven errors while being on the wrong end of a 5-1 penalty count in the first 40.
Sharks prop Aaron Woods bombed a try in the 10th-minute before Johnson soon took control, setting up two tries from kicks for wingers Sione Katoa and Mulitalo.
The first effort was a great heads-up play, with Johnson kicking early in the tackle count after spotting Roger Tuivasa-Sheck up in the defensive line and Katoa comfortably won the race to the ball.
It seemed the former Golden Boot winner could do no wrong in the first half after also coming up with a try-saving tackle on opposite Chanel Harris-Tavita metres from the line.
Given the amount of mistakes they made, Warriors coach Todd Payten would have probably been happy to go into the break down 12-0.
But four minutes before halftime, Tuivasa-Sheck got his side right back into the contest with a moment of magic, producing a superb offload for Jack Murchie to score from 20 metres out.
The Warriors had the perfect chance to level the scores early in the second half after back-to-back mistakes from Mulitalo, only for George Jennings – who had a game to forget – to be taken into touch off a scrum.
That was compounded by needless penalty by Murchie to invite yet more pressure from the Sharks.
Having scrambled to hold their line on two occasions, the Warriors managed to swing the momentum as the Sharks’ discipline was brought into question.
As he has done so often this season, centre Peta Hiku showed his class to shrug off Josh Dugan and put Adam Pompey over with a no-look pass.
Harris-Tavita nailed the sideline conversion to get them back on level terms and with 18 minutes left, he followed that up with a booming 43-metre penalty goal to put his side in front for the first time.
It was an extremely tense finish and for a moment it looked like the Warriors might survive as Cronulla got the wobbles with the ball.
However, another pinpoint Johnson grubber almost put Katoa over before a shoulder charge by Jazz Tevaga had the Sharks back on attack.
This time the Warriors couldn’t hold them out.
Rudolf steamed onto the ball from 10m out and busted through three defenders to cruelly end the Warriors’ season.
Sharks 22 (Ronaldo Mulitalo 2, Sione Katoa, Toby Rudolf tries; Shaun Johnson 3 goals) Warriors 14 (Jack Murchie, Adam Pompey tries; Chanel Harris-Tavita 3 goals) HT: 12-6.