Warriors v Sharks: Five key points
After the Sharks rallied late to beat the Warriors 18-14 on Saturday night, here are five key points to come out of the match at Mount Smart Stadium.
Defensive performance among Cronulla's best
Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan didn't hold back in his praise of the defensive effort, saying it was probably his side's finest of 2015.
The way the Sharks repelled the Warriors, especially in a first half where at one point the hosts had five-consecutive sets inside the attacking third, proved crucial in the end.
The Warriors finished the first half with 68 percent possession and ended the game with more as well.
"That was probably our best defensive effort of the season, we were outstanding when defending our own line, courageous," Flanagan said.
"Some outstanding tackles, a couple on our line there we made. Our two centres made some real crucial tackles there as well.
"Defence in the first half, particularly in the tail end of it ended up winning us that game."
While he singled out halfback Jeff Robson for a special mention, given the job he did containing Ben Matulino on the edge of the park.
"I think he probably made 10 or 12 tackles on Matulino, what is he 6.6 and 130 kilos? I think Robbo thought he was that big anyway."
Sharks win tight again
For the ninth time this season the Sharks won by eight points or less, while it was the fifth time they have come back from a half time deficit to record victory in 2015.
That tough attitude is what the club is best known for, and these tight victories can only boost them as they look to secure a finals berth over the next few weeks.
According to captain Paul Gallen their experience in close encounters meant his side never panicked, despite being dominated through the first 40 minutes.
"I was really confident at half time and was trying to reinforce that in the boys," Gallen said.
"We know we are a tough side, we say that to ourselves every week.
"If we just stick to our game plan and drag teams into an arm wrestle we can win every game we play."
Makeshift halves stand up despite result
They didn't get the result they wanted, but life without Shaun Johnson wasn't nearly as disastrous as many had predicted.
Missing their biggest contributor in attack the Warriors still managed to create plenty of scoring opportunities and finished their sets well for the most part.
Standoff Chad Townsend looked composed, handling the majority of the kicking game, while 20-year-old halfback Tuimoala Lolohea played his role with 99 metres off 11 carries.
"I thought he [Lolohea] was solid, he didn’t overplay his hand and he did the things he was good at which was running the ball," Warriors coach Andrew McFadden said.
"I think that combination with him and Chad will obviously evolve. I thought it was a pretty decent game [for the halves]."
For the second time in less than a month 20-year-old winger Valentine Holmes produced a game-changing play to lead his side to victory.
In Round 19 it was a field goal in golden point which got Cronulla up 21-20 over Canberra, and this time around it was two tries, the second of which came after a piece of individual brilliance.
With fullback Sam Tomkins to beat Holmes dabbed an accurate chip over the top of the England international, before regathering over the line for a play which revitalised his team.
"I was pretty happy [with how I performed]," Holmes told NRL.com.
"I didn't really get involved at the start but worked my way through the game and scored those two tries.
"[Tomkins] is a pretty experienced fullback so he probably would have made the one-on-one tackle, so I chipped it over and got the lucky bounce."
Across the 80 minutes Holmes had 13 runs for 129 metres, finishing with 46 NRL Fantasy points.
Edges change and struggle again for Warriors
With Shaun Johnson out of the side McFadden opted for a change on the right edge, moving Chad Townsend and Solomone Kata from the left to help cover.
It seemed to work well for the first 40, but in the second period Hurrell struggled for involvement in the unfamiliar role of left centre, while both he and Manu Vatuvei made defensive errors on the three Cronulla tries.
On the right Kata also had some issues late, and was run over badly by Ricky Leutele on the final try of the game.
But McFadden said the move was for good reason, and there were some positives to come out of it.
"We wanted to put Chad on the right side because he becomes our predominant kicker now, he is a right footer so it just makes it a little easier for him," McFadden said.
"Him and Solomone have been defending really well together. Obviously we have struggled a little bit on our right edge and I thought it would be good to get Solomone over.
"I thought they did a fair job to be honest. [But] our left edge wasn't so strong tonight."