Shaun Johnson steered Cronulla to a dramatic 28-24 win over St George Illawarra, as the Sharks overcame injuries to star centre Jesse Ramien and halfback Chad Townsend to confirm their finals credentials.
In a high quality match featuring spectacular tries, a controversial bunker call and heavy casualty tolls in both camps, Johnson scored a try and laid on two others to ensure bragging rights for the Sharks in their first home game against the Dragons at Netstrata Jubilee Stadium.
There were numerous stars on both teams, with St George Illawarra fullback Matt Dufty and centre Zac Lomax in electrifying form, but Johnson combined brilliance with calmness to guide Cronulla home after the loss of Ramien (hamstring) and Townsend (calf).
The Dragons also lost halfback Adam Clune and forward Trent Merrin after the pair failed Head Injury Assessments.
Match: Sharks v Dragons
Round 11 -
Venue: Netstrata Jubilee Stadium, Sydney
Just as they did last week when Dufty scored the fastest try so far this season, the Dragons opened their account early after Tyrell Fuimaono pounced on a loose ball that had been stripped from Euan Aitken over the try-line by Siosifa Talakai in just the fourth minute.
Cronulla replied five minutes later when second-rower Jack Williams was awarded a try after appearing to win the race for a Shaun Johnson grubber kick that ricocheted off Dragons prop Blake Lawrie.
However, replays suggested that despite slipping over in the chase for the ball Dufty had gotten his hand under that of Williams to ground the ball first.
Lomax scores brilliant Dragons team try
Ramien looked to have scored another try in the 15th minute but it was disallowed after hooker Blayke Brailey was ruled to have obstructed the defence.
Lomax regained the lead for St George Illawarra with an 18th minute penalty goal and then scored a stunning try after the Dragons passed the ball around before hooker Ben Hunt put up a cross-field kick for his right centre.
After catching the kick, Lomax grubbered past Ronaldo Mulitalo and dived on the ball to score.
Again the Sharks hit back quickly through winger Sione Katoa, who crossed for his 10th try of the season in the 23rd minute.
Johnson then put Cronulla ahead for the first time in the match when he weaved his way over the try-line before laying on a 34th minute try for fullback William Kennedy that enabled the home side to go to the sheds with a 22-14 lead.
With Clune and Merrin ruled out during the half-time break, the game seemed as good as over when Cronulla Test prop Aaron Woods crashed over five minutes after the interval.
Woods hits and spins his way to a try
St George Illawarra did not touch the ball in the second half until the 47th minute and by the time they did Cronulla boasted 66 per cent of possession for the match and had committed just one handling error, despite the wet conditions.
Yet the Dragons were far from done and Lomax put them back in the contest when he scored another spectacular 52nd minute try after Dufty accelerated across the field and threw a clever flick pass to the 2019 Junior Kangaroos representative.
The pair combined again five minutes later when Lomax won the race for a deep Dufty grubber kick and flicked a pass behind him to winger Mikaele Ravalawa, who juggled the ball before crashing over to score and reduce the deficit to 28-24.
Dufty almost stole victory with three minutes to play but he failed to ground Ben Hunt's grubber, while a last-gasp effort by Jason Saab also went unrewarded.