Down by two points with just 90 seconds on the clock, the visitors’ charge down and regather put them in a prime position to take advantage of a scrambled Sharks defence and to score the match-winner.
But it was the Sharks side who were on the favourable end of the referee’s whistle early on, having earned a string of penalties inside the opening ten minutes.
Although they were unable to turn possession into points, Cronulla were then asked to aim up in defence, as the sides traded end-to-end blows.
The visitors looked likely to open the scoring when back rower Bodene Thompson breached the Sharks’ defence, but he was only to be cut down inches from the Cronulla goal line.
An ensuing penalty earned the side a repeat set of six – all of which they did not require – as ex-shark Jonathan Wright crossed out wide on the second tackle to take the Warriors to a 4-0 lead.
Consecutive penalties to the Sharks soon after saw them march down the field and again they heaped pressure on the Warriors defence.
Jack Bird earned the side a repeat set when his deft grubber forced the Warriors into a goal-line drop out, before Mick Ennis’ kick in the prevailing set of six provided Luke Lewis with an easy grab to score under the posts.
The Warriors’ ill discipline again had them on the back foot, and the Sharks had looked to have scored their second of the night when winger Mitch Brown latched onto a Jeff Robson kick.
A clutch save from the Warriors outside backs saw Brown held up over the line and their efforts were rewarded at the other end of the field when Vatuvei crossed out wide. Shaun Johnson was again unable to add the extras as the score remained at 8-6.
Looking to spark the Cronulla attack, the 13,988-strong Remondis crowd rose as one when Bird and Ben Barba combined for a 90-metre bust.
Although the break was not converted into points, the Sharks did find a way to add to their tally when Holmes converted a penalty from adjacent to the posts to lock the scores at 8-apiece heading into the sheds at half time.
The Warriors’ Thompson had appeared to send his side to the front, but his second-effort was sent up stairs and he was then denied by the man in the box.
Holmes was again asked to turn a penalty into two points – and that he did – in taking the Sharks out to a 10-8 lead with 35 minutes to play.
In what was shaping up to be a tight tussle for points, the sides placed an added emphasis on possession and completions in working through their respective sets of six.
A Warriors penalty from in front of the posts saw Johnson level the game at 10-all with 16 to play, before Solomone Kata was denied by Bird’s try-saving effort.
The last-gasp tackle was not enough to prevent Kata from scoring on the night, as the 20-year-old scored his seventh try of the season to take his side out to a 14-10 lead.
But Holmes’ short kick restart was swooped upon and the Sharks again went deep onto the attack.
A barnstorming run from prop Andrew Fifita levelled the game at 14, before Holmes maintained his perfect night with the boot in sending Cronulla to the front.
Having had a poor night from the boot himself, it was a piece of individual brilliance from Warriors half Johnson that sealed his sides win – as he stepped and weaved through the Sharks’ defence to steal the 2 points.
Johnson made no mistake on his last attempt on goal, taking the final score to 20-16 and resigning the Sharks to a second consecutive defeat.
In other news out of the match, Anthony Tupou was reduced to the dressing room with a broken jaw after being collected by bullocking knee of Konrad Hurrell.
CRONULLA SHARKS: 16 – (TRIES: Lewis, A.Fifita | GOALS: Holmes (4/4) )
Def. by NZ WARRIORS: 20 – (TRIES: Wright, Vatuvei, Kata, Johnson | GOALS: Johnson (2/5) )