The top eight has been decided and the Sharks will be a part of the 2020 NRL Finals series after scoring a thrilling 22-14 victory over the New Zealand Warriors.
It was a match of see-sawing fortunes, the Sharks led early, fell behind midway through the second half, then landed the killer blow just five minutes from time, with the victory and two competition points knocking the chasing pack out of contention and ensuring a finals appearance for the Cronulla side for the sixth straight season.
While maybe not the prettiest win, it was one built on resilience and determination, with stand-in skipper Shaun Johnson leading from the front and urging his teammates on when it mattered against his former club.
Johnson had a hand in two of the Sharks tries and made the line break in the lead up to the match-winner, but it may have been a couple of try saves in defence that would prove to be just as crucial to the final result.
The Sharks had two chances early, a Sione Katoa break led to nothing, then the Sharks failed to ground a clever Blayke Brailey grubber, but they wouldn't be denied a third time, a Johnson kick saw Katoa easily win the race to score wide out.
The try was Katoa’s 15th of the 2020 season.
Johnson couldn't add the extras and after 15 minutes of the match the Sharks were in front 4-0.
In a grinding first half, with both teams desperate for the points, the Sharks dodged a bullet when Johnson made a one-on-one try saver on his opposite number and his efforts were rewarded soon after, the captain laying on another try, his NRL leading 22nd assist of the season with a kick for Ronaldo Mulitalo to touch down.
Johnson kicked the conversion from wide out and added a further two points with a penalty goal for an off-side infraction from the Warriors and with half time approaching it was 12-0 to the Cronulla side.
A six to go call against the Sharks turned the tide somewhat, putting the New Zealand side on the attack and it was their star fullback creating his teams first points, Roger Tuivasa Sheck displaying his brilliant footwork to poke through before off-loading for Jack Murchie to score.
The Chanel Harris-Tavita conversion made it 12-6 at the break.
After a frantic opening 10 minutes of the second half the Sharks attacked at one end, a controversial call went the way of the Warriors who marched down the other and following a flick pass from Peta Hiku it was young winger Adam Pompey diving over in the south-western corner to pull his team within two and when the Harris-Tavita kick snuck over from the touchline it was all locked up at 12-all with 28 minutes of the match remaining.
Another Harris-Tavita goal, this time from a penalty for an innocuous high tackle put his team in front for the first time at 14-12, and with a little over 15 minutes left it was the Sharks who would need to find something if they were to come away with the points.
The Sharks had a chance to take the lead with eight minutes left, however some last ditch Warrior defence knocked the ball free when Katoa looked likely but it would take an inspirational run from Toby Rudolf that would put them back into the lead.
After Johnson had split the Warriors defence two plays later Rudolf charged over a couple of tacklers to touch down for his first try in the NRL and an extremely important one at that with only six minutes left on the clock.
With the Warriors pressing in the closing moments a catch then 60-metre run from Katoa would all but end the Kiwis chances, Mulitalo putting the icing on the cake with an acrobatic dive in planting the ball down centimetres in from the corner post.
The kick from Johnson rebounded off the uprights but the job was done, the Sharks escaping with an eight-point victory while dashing the hopes of the Warriors, Tigers, Sea Eagles and Titans, all who had a mathematical chance had the New Zealand team come out on top in tonight’s match.
Johnson was outstanding for the Sharks, his young halves partner Connor Tracey played with energy and was the perfect foil, wingers Katoa and Mulitalo were safe under her high ball and busy throughout, while also finishing off a couple of attacking movements for tries, while Rudolf will long remember his first four-pointer in the NRL.
Siosifa Talakai also deserves special mention for another standout performance, the first year Sharks running for a team high 199 metres, with one particular carry late in game turning the tide in his teams favour.
The challenge now for the Sharks is to finish the regular season strongly with tough matches against the Roosters and Raiders coming up before week one of the Finals to follow.
The Sharks play the Roosters at the SCG next Saturday night.
15 mins - Katoa try - Sharks 4-0
32 mins - Mulitalo try, Johnson goal - Sharks 10-0
35 mins - Johnson goal - Sharks 12-0
38 mins - Murchie try, Harris-Tavita goal - Sharks 12-6
52 mins - Pompey try, Harris Tavita goal - 12-all
63 mins - Harris-Tavita goal - Warriors 14-12
74 mins - Rudolf try, Johnson goal - Sharks 18-14
78 mins - Mulitalo try - Sharks 22-14
Ronaldo Mulitalo 2, Stone Katoa, Toby Rudolf tries Shaun Johnson 3 goals
Jack Murchie, Adam Pompey tries, Chanel Harris-Tavita 3 goals