Warriors 16 Cronulla 12
Shark attack: Feleti Mateo tries to get a pass away under all sorts of Cronulla pressure. Photo: Getty Images
The Warriors were pushed all the way by a relentless Sharks, eventually coming out four-point victors at Mount Smart Stadium.
Bottom placed versus top-eight contender? You would not have known it in a scrappy encounter that could have gone either way. The Sharks were heroic in defence and, after a fluid first half, the Warriors had what was probably their worst second half of the season, failing to score a point.
The game, in front of a crowd of 13,939 and in fine weather, was a test of the depth of both teams. The Warriors played without Konrad Hurrell and Shaun Johnson, while the Sharks were without their captain Paul Gallen. Andrew Fifita, in a show of strength, played through a suspected broken arm to give the Sharks a chance. He eventually left the field with nine minutes to go.
Stopped in his tracks: Warrior Chad Townsend is met by Cronulla's Jonathon Wright. Photo: Getty Images
The Warriors also lost centre Dane Nielsen (suspected concussion) and wing Tui Lolohea (hamstring strain), forcing a reshuffle of the back line; two of the club's bigger men, captain Simon Mannering and utility Ben Henry, filled the centre spots.
Cronulla suffered an early setback when Gallen was ruled out with a virus, but they played out of their skins in defence and, in the second half, in attack. There were positives for the Warriors though; Ngani Laumape, standing in for Hurrell, made several strong runs; Manu Vatuvei looked strong on attack and defence, and Sam Tomkins and Thomas Leuluai linked well.
"It was a pretty scrappy win but two points is two points at this time of the year, and we needed to win," Warriors coach Andrew McFadden said. "We haven't backed up after a big win, so we will take it.
"We certainly were challenged today. We have got to give a huge amount of credit to the opposition and the way they fought. They have got, I guess, only pride to play for and with all the losses in their team, they really turned up.
"That's probably a positive out of that game, that under all that pressure we managed to hold them out."
Sharks stand-in coach James Shepherd was chuffed, despite the loss.
"After the first half, with the weight of possession in that first half, to go in 16-6 down we were reasonably happy – our effort was great, our attitude was great and to keep them scoreless in the second half it was a magnificent defensive display," he said. "Blokes were working really hard for each other ... and we might have grabbed it there in the end."
Stand-in captain Jeff Robson said it had been a frustrating year but the players were playing for pride.
"We have had a lot of close games and a lot of stuff go on outside of footy that we can't control," he said. "The way the boys turned up today really showed the pride that we have in the club and we are just going to play for each other in the back end of the year and hopefully get a few wins and get off that wooden spoon."
The Sharks' defence was tested early and they stood up to the Warriors for four straight sets until Laumape muscled over in the right corner for his third try of the year after seven minutes.
It was not until the 11th minute that the Sharks got possession in the Warriors' half. It was a frenetic few minutes before Tinirau Arona, filling in for captain Gallen, dived on a loose ball to score.
Two quick penalties conceded by the Sharks gave the Warriors a wealth of possession but they were unable to make it past the defence. The fluidity of the Warriors' play in the first 10 minutes went missing during this period but eventually Laumape scored a second try after outpacing the Sharks' defence.
Wing Vatuvei had the Warriors third try after half an hour, going over in the tackle of about three players after a magnificent pass from Nielsen. It was his 14th try of the year.
The second half was a different story. The Warriors looked sloppy and failed to score.
Nielsen was tipped in a dangerous tackle by Sharks forward Sam Tagataese 12 minutes into the half and there was serious concern about his condition. He was able to walk from the field and Tagataese was put on report.
It was the Sharks who scored nex, when Sosaia Feki jumped over Laumape to get on the end of a Robson ball to score. The Warriors, who play the Knights at Hunter Stadium this weekend, just managed to hold on.
McFadden said playmaker Johnson was expected to return this week.