Sharks reminder: We’re still in the title race
Paul Gallen could finish his 19-year NRL career with a fairytale.
In a blitzing 42-16 win that showed both their potential and kept them in the top eight, the Sharks flogged the Warriors to give their inspirational captain a shot at going out in glory.
Moving one step closer to securing a finals spot and extending Gallen's glittering career by at least a game, Cronulla scored seven tries to three in a Shark Park romp to prove they are still the premiership wild-card.
With Paul Gallen, Andrew Fifita and Wade Graham marching down the middle, the Sharks exploded back into form with an attacking spree that will have the NRL heavyweights looking over their shoulders.
Coach John Morris was elated after the clash, with his side now needing just one more win to make a finals spot certain with matches against Canberra and the Tigers to come.
"I thought we won that game early and we were able to go on with it in the second half. It was probably close to our best performance of the year," Morris said.
The defeat all but ends the Warriors season with New Zealand now only a mathematical hope, leaving coach Stephen Kearney shattered.
"It's just really frustrating because there's a lack of belief and a lack of resilience in the group at the moment," Kearney said.
"I was really disappointed today because there were some really ordinary tries scored and we made it too hard for ourselves."
XERRI ON TOP
It took just two minutes for the Sharks to strike in the all-important final's forming match at PointsBet Stadium.
With Cronulla looking to move a step closer to securing a top eight spot and the Warriors out to save their season, the Sharks went on the attack from the opening as the sun shone in the Shire.
In a show of intent from the Sharks and a lack of it from the Warriors, Gallen sprinted 30m up the field after Aaron Woods put him in the clear.
Bronson Xerri slashed his way back through the Warriors defensive line to score his 12th try of the year and making it a dream start for the Sharks.
Freshly turned 33, Morris wound back the clock to extend the Sharks lead when he combined with Ronaldo Mulitalo in a flash down the flank.
Making it 12-4 following Johnson's conversion, Morris sent Mulitalo on a run before the winger delved into his trick bag to give the birthday boy a try with a magical offload.
Far from a fading force after being discarded by the Bulldogs, Morris almost made it a double when he went close to pouncing on a Shaun Johnson grubber in the 21st minute.
Josh Dugan made it a day to remember for the veterans when he carried three defenders over the line to score the Sharks' third.
The four-pointer came after a stirring start from the former Dragon helped put the Sharks on the front foot.
Dugan had two line-breaks and a try assist to add to his four pointer after just over a quarter of the match.
NOT GOING AWAY
With a flogging looming and the Sharks threatening to run away, the Warriors scored an against-the-run-of-play try to stop the rot.
Ripping off his right foot and through the Cronulla line, Isaiah Papali'i shocked the Sharks from close range to make it a match at 18-10 following the conversion from in-front
A rare error for Roger Tuivasa-Sheck - the reigning Dally M medal winner touching a kick as it went into touch - threatened to ruin the comeback.
Briton Nikora strolled over from 10m out as half-time neared to give the Sharks a 14-0 lead at the break.
ONCE WERE WARRIOR
Shaun Johnson helped deliver defeat to the team he loyally served for eight years.
In his first win over his former club following a one point loss in his only other clash, the New Zealand discard showed moments of magic as the Sharks ended the Warriors' season.
Still not at his scintillating best and yet to deliver a halcyon day performance for the Sharks, Johnson showed what he is capable of with a couple of moments of class.
His deft first half pass to Nikora for a try was a highlight.
Johnson shapes as the final's x-factor with the team hoping he can inspire a from the back of the pack charge.
While Johnson played his part, it was a rampaging Braden Hamlin-Uele who killed off the Warriors when he stormed down the middle of the field to take the Sharks out to a 20 point lead early in the second half.
TRAINED TO BE TOUGH
Veteran sharks trainer Mark Noakes performed his on-field duties after a broken bone popped through skin during a warm-up mishap.
Proving himself to be as tough as any of his players and also having someone attend to him for a change, Noakes received several stitches before going the full eighty with a broken hand.
CRONULLA 42 (J Morris 2 J Dugan B Hamlin-Uele R Mulitalo B Nikora B Xerri tries S Johnson 7 goals) bt NZ WARRIORS 16 (D Fusitu'a P Herbert I Papali'i tries P Herbert I Luke goals) at PointsBet Stadium. Referee: Gavin Badger, Gerard Sutton. Crowd: 11,218
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