Titans v Sharks: Five key points
In search of a golden point, Flanagan's frustration, Barba among the playmaking elite and Hoffman's gutsy play saves the day.
When a point would have been golden
Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan called it a "hollow" feeling while Titans coach Neil Henry referred to it as "the point of difference" yet both teams were left to rue a win that would have meant so much for very different reasons.
The Sharks' 15-game winning streak is now a 16-game undefeated run, effectively ending their tilt at besting the record of 19 consecutive wins in a season set by the all-conquering Roosters of 1975.
For the Titans, doing something no other team has been able to achieve since Round 3 gives them a point that edges them ahead of the likes of the Warriors, Panthers and Wests Tigers but still leaves them likely needing to win three of their last five games to be guaranteed a finals berth.
After the Titans fought back from 12-0 down to lead 18-12 midway through the first half it took a late surge from the Sharks to even draw level but from that point they had the better of the chances to close it out.
Having had two shots prior to full-time James Maloney hit the post in the first period of extra time and then hooked a second shot in the second period while the Titans were left to scramble indifferent attempts through Ashley Taylor.
Flanagan said that it was perhaps "the draw we had to have" yet for the Titans the test will be to keep their smallest of buffers over the final month of the season.
Flanagan's frustration at extra time officiating
Openly opposed to the concept of golden point, Shane Flanagan was highly critical of the way golden point periods are conducted, labelling it is "an absolute joke".
Both teams had attempts at field goal charged down in regular time and then again in extra time with Flanagan suggesting that his side and the Titans were guilty of infringements that would warrant a penalty in the 80 minutes that preceded it.
Sharks five-eighth James Maloney hit the post with an attempt in the first period of extra time and Titans centre Konrad Hurrell was held up over the line in the second period but Flanagan again expressed his disappointment at how extra time is officiated.
"It's an absolute lottery. They were all offside, we were offside, there were charge downs, there were penalties that should have been given… It's just a joke golden point. It is an absolute joke," Flanagan said.
"They were off at marker – and so were we but just throw all the rules out because there are no rules in golden point.
"If I'm not one for golden point I need to be able to be satisfied with a draw at the end of whatever time we play."
Barba's scintillating season continues
There's no question that the spark that lit up the competition in 2012 is well and truly back in Ben Barba. When the Sharks were looking to get their way back into the game late in the second half it was Barba who the fans were urging to come up with the crucial play, just as he had done for two tries in the first half.
With two perfectly executed passes – one a long cut-out for Valentine Holmes and the other a short ball for Jack Bird – Barba took his try assist tally for the season to 16, behind only Ben Hunt and Cooper Cronk and level with Johnathan Thurston.
His pure speed creates opportunities for his outside men due to the space that is created and then his natural footballing instinct kicks in as he takes the right option time and again.
His running metres may have been down on his season average but Barba is once again the go-to man when his team needs something out of nothing, and that is something that everyone in rugby league should be excited about.
Hoffman saves the day with gutsy play
It was a moment to make you stand from your seat in unbelieving anticipation about what is about to unfold.
With less than 10 seconds left in the 90th minute of the contest the Sharks went for one last Hail Mary and went within inches of coming up with a rugby league miracle. A shift to the right sent Holmes down the right-hand side and when space and time ran out he fashioned an in-field kick that found wide open spaces.
Chad Townsend led a pack of hungry Sharks looking to go in for the kill but were thwarted when John Hoffman – the lone Titan in the frame – conjured the last ounce of energy to beat them to the ball and safely secure possession.
If he'd not been there it would have been one of the most exciting moments of the season but the fact that he was was testimony to the courage and spirit he and his Titans teammates have played with all season.
"They made a half-break and 'Meady' (David Mead) was there for the cover tackle so I knew we didn't have a fullback," Hoffman told NRL.com.
"I could see three or four Sharkies heading for the ball so I just had to get my body on the ball. I knew there wasn't long on the clock and a draw is better than a loss.
"I could see the boys were doing it tough in the middle and I just knew that if I come up with that play the boys would benefit out of it."
Crowd numbers build but loyalties divided
The Titans managed to entice almost 15,000 people to come out on a mid-winter's Monday night for a game of footy but their next challenge is to win the split of fans ahead of Sunday's clash with the Warriors.
The crowd of 14,918 was quite incredible yet it was significantly bolstered by a Sharks contingent who could smell blood in the water as their team sought their 16th win in succession.
Despite their own lofty position on the ladder the Titans were greeted to a loud chorus of boos when they ran onto Cbus Super Stadium but would have won the admiration of many Sharks supporters with their courageous display.
The Warriors are traditionally one of the biggest drawing teams on the Gold Coast but Titans captain Ryan James said the support of their own fans was vital in such an enthralling and competitive encounter.
"I was actually really surprised tonight," James said. "I haven't heard a Titans chant since when I first started in 2010. It was excellent.
"We had the fans behind us and I honestly couldn't thank them enough, they were excellent for us."