Warriors v Sharks: Five key points
The Cronulla Sharks continued their march towards the finals with a 26-12 victory over the Warriors in Auckland, a result that all but ended the Kiwi side's hopes of playing past the regular season for the first time since 2011. Here are the five key points from Friday night's clash at Mt Smart Stadium.
Sharks show their class in testing circumstances
It was a fair way short of the best we have seen from Cronulla in the NRL Telstra Premiership this year, but the win over the Warriors required plenty of class.
Post-match coach Shane Flanagan reflected on what he said had the potential to be a danger game for his side on a chilly night in Auckland, and expressed plenty of pride in the performance.
"I thought it was a professional performance in tricky conditions, slippery, the Warriors had nothing to lose tonight," Flanagan said.
"We got the job done."
Despite not establishing distance on the scoreboard until the final 18 minutes, Cronulla always looked in control and handled periods of pressure well in defence.
With the ball they took their chances well to turn 56 per cent possession and an 82 per cent completion rate into four tries and 26 points.
Execution off again for Kearney
The Warriors had little trouble getting into scoring positions on Friday night, but taking advantage of them proved a different story.
After a week where both coach Stephen Kearney and several members of the playing group spoke of a need to improve their execution, the Warriors failed to nail their plays inside the attacking 20 time and time again.
It was the second week in a row where they have only managed to score 12 points, having endured similar struggles in last week's 24-12 loss to the Cowboys in Townsville.
"I thought there was some really good stuff there, I thought our physicality, particularly with our defence, was really good at times, but we let ourselves down with our execution," Kearney said.
'Next man up' working for Cronulla
It is that time of the year when depth really starts to shine through in the NRL, and those clubs without tend to fall away.
Missing New South Wales playmaker James Maloney (hand) from the start in Auckland, Cronulla got plenty of value out of replacement five-eighth Fa'amanu Brown in his hour on the park before he exited with a nasty head knock.
At that point usual back-rower Wade Graham jumped into the halves and the Sharks moved on seamlessly.
Flanagan was also without the service of another Blues rep in Jack Bird (sternum), with Kurt Capewell stepping in to the centres to score the opening try and run for over 100 metres.
Another injury blow for Warriors pack
The initial signs aren't positive for Bodene Thompson's immediate future on the field, with the back-rower being taken from the field midway through the second half clutching his arm.
Post-match Kearney said the immediate prognosis is a suspected torn pectoral, which would end Thompson's campaign and probably any hope he had of representing the Kiwis at the season-ending World Cup.
Already missing Ryan Hoffman, James Gavet and Albert Vete, the loss of Thompson would be another significant hit to the Warriors' pack.
Still without a contract for next year as the final month of the regular season approaches, Thompson potentially may have also played his last game for the Warriors.
Timely boost for tough run home
The run home isn't favourable for the Sharks, with three of their final five regular season games coming against sides currently in the competition's top six.
Outside of that they played the enigmatic Canberra Raiders and the Knights in Newcastle in Round 26, a side who will have nothing to lose.
Winger Gerard Beale said the defending premiers, who with victory over the Warriors go second on the ladder pending other results, have their eyes firmly set on cementing a top-four spot.
"We have got Canberra next week, I think they will be pretty tough, and then obviously three big games in a row," Beale said.
"Hopefully this will help us build."