Warriors win marred by controversy as Sharks fans blasts 'terrible' call

Cronulla fans are crying foul after their loss to the Warriors in which they blew a 20-0 lead.

Shaun Johnson, pictured here after kicking the Warriors to victory over the Sharks.
Shaun Johnson kicked the Warriors to victory after a controversial penalty call against the Sharks. Image: Channel 9/Getty

Cronulla coach Craig Fitzgibbon has questioned the controversial penalty that helped the Warriors pull off a miracle NRL comeback to beat the Sharks on Sunday. The Warriors came back from 20-0 down to claim an incredible 32-30 victory, with Shaun Johnson nailing a long-range penalty goal in the final minute to break a 30-30 deadlock.

However many were left questioning whether the Warriors deserved the penalty that gave Johnson his match-winning kick, after referee Ben Cummins ruled that Royce Hunt had pushed Josh Curran off the ball. Curran toed the ball downfield after a stray pass from the Sharks, with Matt Moylan eventually diving on it after a frantic foot race.

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However Cummins spotted a push in the back from Hunt on Curran and awarded the Warriors a penalty. Speaking in his post-match press conference, Fitzgibbon said he didn't even know what the penalty was for.

Royce Hunt, pictured here pushing Josh Curran in the back.
Royce Hunt was ruled to have pushed Josh Curran in the back. Image: Channel 9

“I’m unsure what happened there, I’m interested in having a look at that again,” Fitzgibbon said. “When I looked at it at the time it happened, well I’m not quite sure. Which part was penalised?”

Replays showed Hunt made minimal contact with Curran, however the call could have gone either way. Cronulla fans took to social media to blast the call, with many labelling it a 'terrible' decision at such a crucial stage.

Journalist Greg Prichard tweeted: "Great fightback by the Warriors, but that penalty call in favour of them, off which they won the game with a goal, was a stinker." Others pointed out that the Sharks only had themselves to blame for blowing a 20-point lead.

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The win marked the Warriors' fourth in five games under new coach Andrew Webster, and moved the Kiwi outfit up to second spot on the ladder for their best start to an NRL season since 2018. "Shaun has become this unbelievable leader in the way he leads with his actions in the tough stuff," Webster said.

"Nobody was running their shape at Shaun because they knew he could hold his gloves up. He stuck to the plan, didn't throw the ball around, and he was calm under pressure. Our kitman, Laurie Hale, had a dream he (Shaun) was going to kick a goal to win us the game, so we'll give that one to Laurie."

Webster said previous Warriors teams would have given up after being blow off the park early. "There's lots of ambition, we don't want to make excuses for everything and sit on the bottom," Webster said. "We want to have a crack. The past, everyone thought we'd fall over soon - and after 15 minutes they probably thought today was the day - but the boys had other ideas."

Fitzgibbon was left wondering how his side had capitulated so easily. "We get ourselves in a good game, but we haven't managed it well enough," he said. "It's simple stuff like holding the ball properly. It's really frustrating when you train on it and it doesn't translate into the game."

Fitzgibbon was also left frustrated that captain Dale Finucane was sent to the sin-bin for a hip-drop tackle. Finucane spent the final five minutes of the game watching from the sidelines. "No one wants to see them and we don't want them in the game, but they're hard to get right sometimes," Fitzgibbon added.

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