Held back … Todd Carney, who the Sharks fear may miss next week's sudden death finals clash with the Raiders due to injury, is stopped by the Cowboys. Photo: Getty Images
In a game that presented more pitfalls than potential benefits, it was Cronulla who suffered the biggest blow as they lost to North Queensland.
When they ran out at Toyota Stadium, they were heading to Allianz Stadium for a home final against the Broncos. But, after a dismal afternoon, the Sharks now find themselves contemplating the arduous task of a sudden death final in the nation's capital against a resurgent Canberra Raiders outfit - and possibly without Todd Carney, who has an ankle injury.
However, that isn't the worst of it for Cronulla. Far more concerning than their road trip up the Hume Highway is the form they produced just a week out from their first finals appearance in four years.
The Cowboys were in cruise control for the entire game, guaranteed of a home final regardless of yesterday's result. But the ease with which North Queensland racked up the victory was more of a reflection of Cronulla's below-par effort than a testament to the Cowboys.
The Sharks, who at the midway point of the season looked destined to earn a top-four berth, limp into the finals on the back of two defeats.
The Raiders' victory against the Warriors yesterday meant the Sharks needed to defeat the Cowboys to earn a home final and avoid travelling to Canberra. They failed to rise to the occasion, but coach Shane Flanagan insists it wasn't weighing on the players' minds.
''None of the players knew the score, we didn't really talk about it,'' he said.
''Honest to God, we did not concentrate on the Canberra result. We are going to have to go down there. It's a game of football, they could play up here and be confident and we are the same going down there. We would have liked to have played at home, but it is not to be.''
Cowboys coach Neil Henry admitted he contemplated resting his key players for the final round clash. But the senior playing group, led by skipper Johnathan Thurston, believed the advantages of building momentum outweighed the risk of injury.
''To the boys' credit, we discussed it, but Johnno didn't want to miss a game,'' Henry said. ''I even asked a few of the older guys, like Brent Tate, but he was adamant he wanted to play. It was only Matt Scott, who's got a niggling injury, that was left for my decision to actually say: 'You're not playing.'
''They all wanted to build on what we've been doing and work on a few things. We didn't want to come here, rest three or four players and lose a game of footy. It was important to come here and win.''
While the Cowboys will enjoy the luxury of a home final this week, they have a dismal record away from North Queenslandd and Thurston said it was good to head into the play-offs with the confidence after a victory south of the border.
''There's been a lot of media talk about our results in Sydney,'' he said. ''It was a good result for us here, we just want to keep building on that momentum. No disrespect to the sides we've played over the last four weeks, but they've been below us and the Sharks have been up around the top five, top six all year.
''They got us in Townsville earlier in the year so we wanted to get them back here. I thought we played very well in patches, but there's still a lot of things to improve on.''
The Cowboys, who had Thurston, Tate, Scott and James Tamou involved in this year's State of Origin, believe they are now in a lot better shape than when they scraped into seventh last year.
''This is the best we've pulled up as a club after an Origin series,'' Thurston said.