IT WAS the first time this season that it all came together. The hard-hitting forward pack, the potentially sweeping brilliance of the backs, the bench stacked with wrecking balls ready to be deployed. It all clicked into gear under a bluebird sky in Sydney yesterday to allow the Waratahs to snatch a badly needed bonus-point win in front of a crowd that was finally - vocally - behind them.
It very nearly did not end well. Ten minutes into the second half the Sharks' ferocious hooker Bismarck du Plessis scored a try to take the visitors 11 points in front of NSW. The Waratahs could have faltered and collapsed. Last week they might have. This week, with their backs to the wall, they regrouped and strung together three second-half tries to give the Sharks a nightmare start to their tour through Australia and New Zealand.
''I spoke to the boys about sticking to strategy and sticking to policy,'' first-time captain Benn Robinson said of that moment.
''We know they came out very strong and I think we definitely weathered that storm and [knew] if we stuck to what we did best, and really stuck to policy then we could pull through.''
Coach Michael Foley and man-of-the-match Brendan McKibbin both spoke of relief.
''Let's just say it's a great relief to finish in front of a close one,'' Foley said. ''It's been a tough week but credit for that result tonight has to go 100 per cent to the players.''
''I think it was pretty relieving for the team,'' McKibbin said. ''We've been under the pump from the media especially and our supporters and we'll take the good with the bad. I think the boys had to get up pretty well during the week and we stuck to what we did and we came away with the win.''
The Sharks looked certain to extend the home side's woeful early season results with a dominant first-half performance peppered with brilliant sweeping passes and lightning runs down the wing.
But McKibbin, the replacement halfback who hasn't started a Waratahs match since 2009, kept his side within four points thorough the first half, scoring a try and kicking faultlessly.
Wycliff Palu, who missed a tackle on du Plessis to allow him over the try line in the second half, shrugged off the misfire to charge metres towards the Sharks' try line minutes later.
Centre Tom Carter, who was selected this week to give the Waratahs go-forward in attack, then did just that, running straight into and through defenders to score his third try this season, with just over 20 minutes to go.
A Tom Kingston try right in the corner and a brilliant conversion by five-eighth Berrick Barnes put the Waratahs in the lead and cool-headed play kept them there. ''I can't remember too much but I got the boys together and I think there was about three minutes on the clock left and I said, 'Let's just give it all we can','' Robinson said.
''Definitely, though, kudos to our forward pack there. I think they stuck together nice and strong and we got the result. We definitely were applying a lot of pressure to them at the scrum and at such a crucial moment it was very good to get that penalty.''
Foley was proud of the moments his players pulled together under pressure. ''There was a lot of pressure on the team, particularly the players, to perform today, and I thought they came together very well in the early part of the week and there was even pressure in that game that could have easily pulled us apart,'' he said.
''There were times the Sharks pulled ahead, played very well, and we stayed to what we said we were going to do.''
The Sharks were dangerous and entertaining from the get go, committed to spreading the ball out wide and delivering it into the hands of their lightning wingers Odwa Ndungane and Lwazi Mvovo, who belted down the left wing to register first points within the first three minutes. A fearless intercept from five-eighth Berrick Barnes saved a certain second Mvovo try minutes later.
Only good fortune, plus Adam Ashley-Cooper's speed, saved a third, after Mvovo gave chase to his own chip kick, which bounced into the dead zone just in time.
Both teams showed an early willingness to move the ball wide rather than kick, but it took the Waratahs longer to find their feet. Disciplinary errors allowed the Sharks to add a penalty goal to their first-half score, and continued to cost them early in the second half.
Much of the first quarter was played inside the Waratahs' half and five-eighth Barnes struggled at times with an instinct to kick downfield, with his first two kicks failing to find touch. They were banged right back down to him.
The Waratahs eventually found some rhythm in attack, thanks to the immediate impact of No.8 Palu and the committed rucking of flanker Dave Dennis.
NSW WARATAHS 34 (Tom Carter, Bernard Foley, Tom Kingston, Brendan McKibbin tries McKibbin 3, Berrick Barnes cons McKibbin 2 pens) bt SHARKS 30 (Keegan Daniel, Bismarck du Plessis, Lwazi Mvovo tries Patrick Lambie 3 cons 3 pens) at Allianz Stadium. Referee: Chris Pollock. Crowd: 18,830.