On a night where the Sharks celebrated the 200th NRL game for Aaron Woods and the first top grade match for two debutants in Jackson Ferris and Braydon Trindall, a frantic final 10 minutes has seen them escape with an exciting 36-26 victory over the Broncos.
The Sharks took a lead to half time but they struggled to match the intensity of the Brisbane side for much of the second period, falling behind by eight before mounting a comeback.
Showing great resilience and playing off the back of a brilliant captains knock from Wade Graham, three tries from the 70th minute onward would seal the result, their sixth win in the last seven matches, to keep them pushing forward and towards a top eight berth.
It was a win achieved with a team featuring just three players, Graham, Shaun Johnson and Woods who were boasting more than 50 games of NRL experience.
First points came after a crushing tackle from Siosifa Talakai saw his opposite Kotoni Staggs cough up the ball, with Ronaldo Mulitalo pouncing before running 60 metres to score.
Shaun Johnson was successful with the conversion and the Sharks led 6-0 just seven minutes into the game.
The Broncos villain from the opening try was the hero for the home team 10 minutes later, Staggs sliding over after a line break and some good lead up play from teammate Herbie Farnsworth.
Staggs attempt to level the score rebounded off the upright and it was 6-4 Sharks midway through the first half.
After defending repeat sets on their line the Sharks were rewarded for their efforts at the other end and following a Brisbane error a well-worked dummy half move saw Talakai run over the top of Bronco prop Payne Haas to plant the ball down for his team’s second of the night.
The try was Talakai’s third in his 19 NRL games to date and his first in Cronulla colours.
Johnson slotted the relatively simple conversion and the Sharks were in front by eight.
In what was an entertaining attacking contest the Brisbane side would reply, again after camping on the Sharks line this time the Cronulla side buckled, interchange forward Rhys Kennedy finding space to touch down adjacent to the posts, then another try to winger Richie Kennar, on this occasion from a slick backline movement, appeared as if it would send the Broncos to the break ahead by 14-12.
The Sharks however, in particular Graham, had other ideas, a one-on-one strip from the skipper put his team back on the attack and it was the debutant Ferris running a great line off a Will Kennedy pass, then showing good speed and evasion to get across the line.
Johnson made it three from three as the half time siren was sounding and the Sharks had a four-point lead at 18-14 after the first 40 minutes of the match.
The Sharks had 24 tackles on their opponents line early in the second half and Brisbane refused to concede, with Staggs in the game again, denying Mulitalo with a last ditch tackle, then buoyed by their defensive effort they would equalise with a try from the following set, Kennar scoring a second. The Staggs conversion would then put his team in front by two at 20-18 some 10 minutes into the second stanza.
Now with their confidence riding high and on the back of a Sharks error Brisbane again moved into the Sharks end of the field and again they would make the visitors pay, Staggs getting over for a second time.
The conversion which followed made it 26-18 Brisbane and the Sharks had it all to do with 25 minutes remaining.
The Sharks were paddling and it took a big play to get them back in the game and as was the case in the first half it would come from the captain, Graham showing great persistence and determination to get hold of a short drop out with a little over 12 minutes left on the clock.
From the ensuing set of six the Sharks would give themselves a chance, some silky touches on the inside putting Sione Katoa over in the corner for his NRL-leading 12th try of the year, Johnson kicking the sideline conversion and now down by just two at 26-24 the Sharks comeback was in full swing.
Running the ball on the last tackle on next set of six the Sharks came again, Graham passing to Talakai, who put Mulitalo into space, the young winger kicking inside and Johnny-on-the-spot was Connor Tracey, the interchange hooker collecting the ball for the go-ahead four-pointer.
Johnson’s perfect night with the boot continued and it was now the Sharks defending a lead at 30-26 with three minutes left.
A short kickoff was grabbed by Mulitalo and with Brisbane’s resolve well and truly broken Braden Hamlin-Uele crashed over for the match sealing try.
It was a win where the Sharks showed off their impressive depth, running out without a number of their high profile stars and fielding a team featuring nine players to represent the Newtown Jets in the Canterbury Cup last year.
In addition to Graham, Talakai continued his outstanding form and all the Sharks youngsters held their own, Ferris and Trindall were solid on debut, Kennedy had some good moments and was safe at the back, with Teig Wilton having an impact in just his second game in the NRL.
The only negative was a knee injury suffered by Ferris, the Sharks centre limping off late in the game after falling awkwardly when trying to get the ball down for what would have been his second try of the night.
The Sharks will now enjoy a nine-day break before their next game, which is against the Parramatta Eels at Netstrata Jubilee Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
7 mins - Mulitalo try, Johnson goal - Sharks 6-0
18 mins - Staggs try - Sharks 6-4
25 mins - Talakai try, Johnson goal - Sharks 12-4
32 mins - Kennedy try, Staggs goal - Sharks 12-10
37 mins - Kennar try - Broncos 14-12
39 mins - Ferris try, Johnson goal - Sharks 18-14
51 mins - Kennar try, Staggs goal - Broncos 20-18
55 mins - Staggs try, Staggs goal - Broncos 26-18
71 mins - Katoa try, Johnson goal - Broncos 26-24
76 mins - Tracey try, Johnson goal - Sharks 30-26
78 mins - Hamlin-Uele try, Johnson goal - Sharks 36-26
Ronaldo Mulitalo, Siosifa Talakai, Jackson Ferris, Sione Katoa, Connor Tracey, Braden Hamlin-Uele tries Shaun Johnson 6 goals
Kotoni Staggs 2, Richard Kennar 2, Rhys Kennedy, tries Staggs 3 goals