Five Key Points - Elimination Semi Final

1 Townsend stands up
Throughout the finals there has been plenty of talk about Cooper Cronk, the Storm's Cameron Munster, Ben Hunt and Adam Reynolds have generated some headlines, Nathan Cleary is highly regarded by many and the battle between the Sharks number six Matt Moylan and Panthers skipper James Maloney was THE biggest story of the week in the lead up to the weekend's matches.

He wasn't exactly under the radar, however Sharks half back Chad Townsend just quietly went about his business and with the possible exception of Reynolds, was the standout performer amongst all those named above.

In week one, Townsend was arguably the Sharks best and if his perfect grubber kick late had of resulted in the try it probably should have, he would have been lauded as the match winner.

Then in week two he stepped it up another notch with the local boy, the first half back to play in a winning Sharks Grand Final team, standing up and playing the role that was required by his team.

Big Billy Kikau tried to run over him all night with no success, while with the ball Townsend probed, kicked, organised and did the job assigned to him to a high standard.

And when the pressure was on, Townsend executed perfectly in slotting over the one point that would keep his team's 2018 dream alive.

2 His halves partner wasn't bad either
Matt Moylan prefers to do his talking on the field, with a ball in his hand. He is far less comfortable in front of a media backdrop, talking himself up to the waiting press.

But with all the hype around his clash with his former team and the player who swapped clubs with him during the off-season, the headlines were impossible to avoid.

However, once the whistle blew time on, Moylan put aside the potential distractions and threw himself into the contest, with his class evident and his energy and enthusiasm infectious.

Moylan kicked for the Valentine Holmes try, put Luke Lewis away for another, more often than not led the kick chase and pulled off a couple of inspirational one-on-one tackles close to the line.

He was up for the fight and scored a knockout victory over his opposite number, helping the Sharks sneak home with a composed performance when it mattered.

Townsend was good, Moylan was the perfect foil, with the Sharks halves getting the job done and now set to head to Melbourne in a confident frame of mind.

3 Momentum is a beautiful thing
In the end, it came down to a field goal with five minutes remaining, with the Sharks holding on for a heart-stopping victory that sends them to Melbourne for a Grand Final qualifying clash with the Storm.

For 40-minutes it seemed by how far, rather then if, the Sharks might win.

The Cronulla side led 18-0, and it could have even been more, such was their dominance, before the Panthers posted their only points with a penalty goal after the half time siren had sounded.

However, as we know, in the NRL they play for 80-minutes, momentum can swing and the Panthers came storming back, the Penrith side stunning the Sharks crowd in levelling it up at 20-all with time running out.

Up stepped Townsend, his first attempt was charged down, his second shot at field goal was a wobbly one which snuck over, and the rest is history.

When you have it, rugby league is an easy game, but once it turns, it seems impossible to get it back. Momentum is a beautiful thing and the longer you have it, the more chance you have of coming out on top.

4 The game changer
The biggest play of the game might have been a kick that trickled barely 10-metres.

After the Panthers had battled back to level up at 20-all, possession and field position heavily favouring the Penrith side, the Sharks needed the ball, but they weren't expecting to get it in the way it happened.

He told nobody, not his captain, not his halfback, with Valentine Holmes taking it upon himself to attempt a short kick-off, dribbling the ball barely 10 metres with his restart.

Holmes dived on the football after it had rolled 10-metres and one centimetre, regathering, stunning the Panthers and putting his team on the attack.

It was play that turned the tide, helped the Sharks regain some ascendency and from there they would escape with a one-point win.

It was a risky, gutsy, impetuous play, but whatever it was, it changed the game.

5 Up off the canvas
Sharks coach Shane Flanagan said his side was almost down for the count and just waiting for the knockout blow to come with 20-minutes of the contest remaining.

Paul Gallen had succumbed to a shoulder injury, Luke Lewis limped off with a cork to his calf, Kurt Capewell after limited football in recent weeks had worked himself to a standstill and prop Aaron Woods had gone almost 60-minutes straight without a breather.

The Sharks were cooked, done, waiting for the Panthers to put the proverbial fork in them.

But they found something, showed toughness and resilience and when added to a couple of classy touches from Holmes and Townsend, managed to get the job done.

Premiership glory is still some ways away, but if they can beat the Storm next Friday night and produce something special the week after, they might just look back at the final quarter of the match against the Panthers as the most important 20-minutes of their season.

They climbed off the canvas, kept throwing punches and held on for a narrow points decision that now sets up an exciting fortnight.