The NSW Cup Sharks have squandered a 22-4 lead in going down by a point to the Illawarra Cutters.
The Sharks controlled the first half but allowed their rivals back into the contest, with a 40-metre Sam Williams field goal giving the Cutters a 23-22 victory.
As they did the previous week in beating the Bears the Sharks began the match strongly, a try to Storm-contracted winger Suliasi Vunivalu opening the scoring in just the fourth minute of the match.
The Sharks extended their lead to 10 points when Dayne Weston crashed over, the try converted by Valentine Holmes, before Illawarra narrowed the margin via a try to winger Yaw Kiti Glymin.
But the Sharks continued to hold the ascendency, further tries to Mark Mexico, his first in a Cronulla jersey, then by Holmes with the young fullback crossing after a dazzling 25-metre run and at 22-4 the visiting Sharks were well on top.
The Cutters dragged one back with a try to winger Tyron Cranston on the stroke of half time, converted by Williams and the teams would go to the break with the Sharks leading 22-10.
The second half saw the weight of possession shift to the home team and the pressure told with Chris Lewis running onto a clever Williams short ball to touchdown next to the uprights. Williams converted to reduce the margin to six but the Cutters weren’t finished there, a second Cranston try and a goal from near the sideline leveling the scores with still more than 15 minutes of the match remaining.
The Sharks pressed and had looked likely to score when five eighth Jaden Clarke made a clean break through the heart of the Cutters defense before a desperate cover tackle saved the day for Illawarra.
Not long after a series of strong charges by the Cutters forwards saw them march into their attacking half of the field, with Williams slotting the impressive field goal to snatch the points.
It was a disappointing finish after a gallant effort from a Sharks team decimated by injury and player unavailability. No less than five players were withdrawn from the Sharks side and five NYC eligible players were used on the day.
The Sharks did have a number of strong performers, with Holmes dangerous at the back and forwards McLean. Tim Robinson and Mexico working hard in the middle to lay a platform for the outside backs.
The loss sees the Cutters leapfrog the Sharks on the competition table, however the Cronulla side can end up no worse than seventh on the table at the end of the weekends matches.
Suliasi Vunivalu, Valentine Holmes, Mark Mexico, Dayne Weston tries, Holmes 3 goals
ILLAWARRA CUTTERS 23
Tyron Cranston 2, Yaw Kiti Glymin, Chris Lewis tries, Sam Williams 3 goals and a field goal
SHARKS TEAM LIST
1. Valentine Holmes
2. Travis Robinson
25. Alan Nuilesa
4. Josh Portlock
5. Suliasi Vunivalu
6. Jaden Clarke
7. Penani Manumalealii
8. Tim Robinson
14. Pat Politoni
10. Dayne Weston
11. Sione Masima
18. Michael Morris
16. Jordan McLean
13. Dean Britt
15. Mark Mexico
17. Scott Sorenson
21. Zane Walford