A first half hat-trick to winger Misi Taulapapa helped ensure Cronulla will stay alive for another week in the NRL finals as the Sharks thrashed Canberra 36-10 at Toyota Stadium.
Taulapapa, who had only scored two tries all season before the night, had doubled his 2008 tally by the 12th minute before crashing over for his third in the 35th in the Sharks’ seven-tries-to-two victory in front of 18,252 fans.
But Cronulla’s celebrations will no doubt be tempered by the spectre of a likely sudden death appointment with the Sydney Roosters next week, possibly at the Roosters’ home ground the Sydney Football Stadium.
The NRL will determine whether the SFS or ANZ Stadium will be used next weekend with week one winners Cronulla supposed to receive a home city advantage over losers the Roosters under the controversial McIntyre final eight system.
Canberra will be eliminated from the finals if St George Illawarra beat Manly later on Saturday night or the New Zealand Warriors upset Melbourne on Sunday.
Failing that, the disappointing Raiders will need to travel to Brisbane next weekend.
As well as Taulapapa’s hat-trick, Cronulla’s points came from tries to Brett Seymour, Luke Covell, Ben Pomeroy and Brett Kearney while Covell booted three from six and Brett Kimmorley the final conversion in his last home game at Shark Park.
For Canberra, Marshall Chalk and Colin Best scored tries with Terry Campese kicking one goal.
But it was the Cronulla right winger who had given the Sharks their 14-0 halftime lead with three well taken four-pointers.
Taulapapa picked up the scraps of a Brett Kimmorley cross-field chip which was spilt by Canberra centre Best in just the third minute and the Sharks led 6-0.
Taulapapa got his second in the 12th minute when he completed a backline move involving Kimmorley and Kearney, narrowly staying inside the corner post for the Sharks to lead 10-0.
Taulapapa’s third came when lock Paul Gallen offloaded a miracle ball with tacklers all over him five minutes before the break.
The Raiders hit back quickly after halftime, playing some hot-potato football and scoring through Chalk in the 41st minute.
But their gain was cancelled out just three minutes later when an error led to Seymour’s four-pointer and it was 18-4.
It was 24-4 eight minutes later when Covell contested a cross-field kick with Joel Monaghan and came up with the scraps when the Raiders centre fumbled in goal.
Covell bombed a certain try in the 54th minute and the Raiders rallied briefly when Best crossed in the 68th, but late tries to Pomeroy and Kearney iced the cake for the Sharks.