Premiership-winning half Chad Townsend will have a fight on his hands trying to dislodge Shaun Johnson or Matt Moylan from Cronulla's scrum base after their starring roles in Sunday's 38-10 win over the Titans.
Moylan set the Coffs Harbour stadium alight with two lengthy dashes upfield covering 167 metres – the most of any Shark – making six tackle-busts, a line break assist, and a try assist on top of his two line breaks.
Johnson was on song with his passing and linking games, controlling attack on the right edge as well as through the middle.
His 200th NRL game had been a long time coming since that was only his fourth match for 2021 due to last season's Achilles tear then persistent hamstring troubles upon his return.
Match: Sharks v Titans
Round 12 -
Venue: C.ex Coffs International Stadium, Coffs Harbour
"I thought our halves were really smart – they were composed. They played when it was time to play and were sort of within themselves when they needed to cart the ball forward and get to a kick," said coach Josh Hannay, celebrating his first back-to-back NRL wins.
"I thought they got the balance really good with their footy. I hope for Shaun and Matt as our halves combination, that’s a sign of things to come.
"They haven’t played a lot of football together but we saw a good performance there this afternoon so let’s hope we see some more of that."
Mulitalo has a double as the Sharks extend their lead
A Johnson-Moylan pairing means Townsend will continue to be left out of the side. He was overlooked for Sunday’s game based purely on a drop in form in recent weeks not because he will be a Cowboy in 2022.
"Obviously when the two guys in front of him play like they did today, it’s hard for someone to get into the side," Hannay said.
"What I’ll say about Chad is that’s he been first class this week. He’s a team-first guy. He hasn’t been walking around with his head down. He’s handed it like the true professional he is.
"Regardless of what his situation is moving forward – whether he’s in the team or not – I know Chad will handle it the right way."
Titans mentor Justin Holbrook will need all his coaching powers to pull his side back into consistent form. A heavy loss to Penrith two weeks ago was followed by a resounding win over the Bulldogs and then another thumping. The Sharks led 26-6 at half-time.
"I’m really disappointed … there’s not much else to say. We had everything to play for … we had a great week, some key guys back,” Holbrook said, referring to barnstorming forward David Fifita.
"We started great – scored the first try – but that was it."
It was indeed. The Sharks replied with 38 unanswered points: six converted tries and a penalty goal, before Kevin Proctor scored a consolation Titans try in the 77th minute.
Players in motion from Cronulla
Hannay said there was plenty to play for – Johnson’s 200th, five Indigenous players taking the field, a debutant in Franklin Pele, a "home" game for Cronulla’s regional fans, and a commitment to back up the win from last week.
"So to put in a performance like we in what was a big occasion for the club was very pleasing."
The Titans also had a 200-game player in hooker Mitch Rein but that didn’t prove to be any kind of rallying point.
One concern for both the Titans and Queensland coach Paul Green is fullback AJ Brimson who left the field in 54th minute with a knee injury.
There were four sin bins in the game – two for each club – but only two were for dangerous tackles with Jesse Ramien and Will Chambers having anxious waits until the match review committee meets.
Brian Kelly scored the first try of the game off a sublime Tannah Boyd kick but the floodgates opened with the Sharks scoring tries even when reduced to 12 men.
Winger Ronaldo Maulitalo bagged a double in only his sixth game of the year due to knee problems.