A second half comeback has fallen short with the Sharks going down by 26-20 to Penrith in their round 21 match up at Panthers Stadium.
The Sharks fell behind 20-4 running into a stiff breeze in her first period, conceded a try after the break as the score pushed out to 26-4 and despite their best efforts, weren't able to reel in the Panthers as they slipped to a disappointing loss.
With the top eight as tight as and with a number of teams in the race for finals berths, the loss of the two competition points could come back to bite the Sharks over the closing rounds.
The Panthers were first on the board in the ninth minute courtesy of a Nathan Cleary penalty goal and with the gale force south-westerly at their backs continued to pressure the Sharks line.
After a Sharks error gifted the Panthers field position, it was a cleverly weighted grubber from debutante Matt Burton which led to a Brent Naden try and after the Cleary conversion the home team was ahead 8-0 after the opening 15 minutes.
The Panthers would add to the Sharks problems not long after, this time Cleary going through a gaping hole in the middle of the ruck, then finding a willing support in Dylan Edwards as the fullback dashed the final 15 metres to touch down.
Cleary kicked the simple conversion and it was 14-0 Panthers 13 minutes before the break.
Battling to stay in the game, the tide turned somewhat on the back of a penalty, the Sharks moving into attacking field position for the first time in the game and immediately they were able to capitalise.
Shifting the ball to the right, Shaun Johnson would slip a perfect pass to Wade Graham, with the co-captain getting through the gap and running 20-metres to score wide out.
Johnson couldn't kick the goal into the teeth of the wind but the Sharks were on the board at 14-4 down.
However just when it appeared the Sharks would go to the break only 10 down, a misplaced kick on half way went into the hands of the Panthers and as the half time siren was sounding, Cleary dummied, caught out a couple of tired defenders and scored under the posts.
Cleary kicked the goal, leaving the Sharks with a big mountain to climb at 20-4 behind after the opening 40 minutes.
The task for the Sharks became even more difficult when Edwards exploited an overlap to score his second, the Cleary sideline conversion putting his team 26-4 in front.
The Panthers maintained the momentum and with a clever short kicking game forced three drops out but the Sharks held firm, finally worked into some field position again and were rewarded when Jack Williams crashed through from close range to score his team’s second.
Johnson made no mistake, narrowing the margin to 26-10 and with still time on the clock the Sharks had a glimmer of hope.
That optimism grew a little more soon after when a Johnson show and go saw the five eight break free, find Josh Morris in support, the centre scoring his 11th try of the season.
Johnson kicked the goal to make it 26-16 with 15 to go.
Now throwing caution to the wind the Sharks were starting to dominate and with five minutes remaining it was Sosaia Feki’s turn to cross, Bronson Xerri throwing the final pass after Morris had made inroads with a strong carry into opposition territory.
From a wide angle Johnson’s kick was waved away and with time running out the Panthers led by six.
Unfortunately the comeback bid would fall short, as hard as the Sharks tried Penrith would hang on, the loss now leaving the Cronulla side with plenty to do over the last four rounds of the competition if they hope to take part in the NRL finals.
The Sharks had some willing performers on the night, none better than Dugan at the back, Morris was dangerous with almost every touch on the right and Jayden Brailey tackled himself to a standstill in the middle of the field.
Johnson was another to work his way into the game in red second period when his team managed to get on the front foot but it wasn't enough to turn the result in the Sharks favour.
The Sharks will now attempt to pick themselves up and go again, with an important local derby match up next on the schedule. That match will be played at PointsBet Stadium on Sunday.
Wade Graham, Josh Morris, Jack Williams, Sosaia Feki tries Shaun Johnson 2 goals
Dylan Edwards 2, Brent Nadan, Nathan Cleary, tries, Nathan Cleary 5 goals