Auckland Lions just miss in close encounter with Sharks

A 77th minute try by Cronulla winger Mitch Brown left the Vodafone Auckland Lions shattered as they were beaten 26-24 in Saturday night's New South Wales Premier League clash at Mt Smart Stadium.

It was a bitter defeat after leading 24-22 despite being reduced to 12 men for most of the second half after centre Constantine Mika had been ordered off. Mika's dismissal followed a melee after Brown scored the first of his two tries in the 48th minute.

That brought the Sharks back to 16-18 and just nine minutes later they vaulted to a 22-18 lead when halfback Dean Jamieson touched down. But despite the handicap of being a man short, the Vodafone Auckland Lions showed enormous resolve with 17-year-old prop Russell Packer scoring a brilliant try in the 68th minute. With Steve Buckingham's conversion, they led 24-22 and a dramatic victory was in view.

Instead the Sharks concocted an escape route through Brown's try, a devastating blow for the young Auckland side. Earlier the Graeme Norton-coached side had started the match well as they sought to recover from the previous week's heavy loss to the North Sydney Bears.

With experienced Vodafone Warriors hooker George Gatis providing direction from dummy half, the Vodafone Auckland Lions organised an early try for replacement halfback Kelvin Wright (called in for the injured Isaac John).

And when second rower Sonny Fai surged over for his sixth try in seven matches this year, the prospects seemed even better. The Sharks stayed in the game with Tu'u Maori's try close to halftime but the Vodafone Auckland Lions shot out to an 18-10 lead straight after the break when loose forward Corey Lawrie - back in the side after two NRL appearances - crossed for another converted try.

At 18-10, the opening was there to seal the game only Brown's try and Mika's dismissal had a severe impact on those plans. Match details:

At Mt Smart Stadium, Auckland: Vodafone Auckland Lions 24 (Kelvin Wright, Sonny Fai, Corey Lawrie, Russell Packer tries; Steve Buckingham 3 conversions, penalty). Cronulla Sharks 26 (Mitch Brown 2, Bryson Goodwin, Tu'u Maori Dean Jamieson tries; Bryson Goodwin 3 conversions). Halftime: 12-10 Vodafone Auckland Lions.