Cronulla five-eighth Matt Moylan outpointed the man he swapped jerseys with during the off-season transfer merry-go-round to record his first win with the club as the Sharks stunned James Maloney's Penrith at Southern Cross Group Stadium on Sunday.
Without injured co-captains Paul Gallen (knee) and Wade Graham (hamstring), the Sharks needed Moylan and fellow off-season recruit Josh Dugan to stand up after losing Luke Lewis to a calf injury in the 13th minute. The pair delivered in arguably their best performances since joining the club to spark the Sharks to a gritty 26-22 win.
After six weeks of chopping and changing positions in the spine, Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan appears to have found his best combination, with Moylan starring at five-eighth, Dugan inspirational at fullback and Valentine Holmes scoring a try on the wing.
In comparison, Maloney – the former Sharks playmaker who traded places with Moylan – was unable to continue the form which had made him a frontrunner for the NSW halfback jersey since taking over the chief playmaking role at Penrith following the loss of Nathan Cleary with a knee injury.
Match: Sharks v Panthers
Round 7 -
Venue: Southern Cross Group Stadium
"I think everyone gets up for a big game against their old club," Flanagan said "You can't wipe the smile off his face at the moment."
Moylan, who missed the Sharks previous two wins against Parramatta and Melbourne, finished the match with one try assist, two line break assists, one tackle break, one off-load and found 175 metres with his six kicks.
"Matt had two weeks out injured and probably played underdone. His knee wasn't right but you saw today he had no strapping in him," Flanagan said.
"He had a knee injury and a hamstring injury so that interrupted Matt's start but he is over that now and I think you will see the best of him in the weeks to come."
Asked if he had made changes to the way Cronulla play with Moylan at five-eighth, Flanagan said: "Matty is more instinctive, eyes up rather than stick to structure. He would rather be instinctive, with his hands on the ball going to the defensive line".
Following the loss of Gallen and Graham, the Sharks received a late boost when Andrew Fifita was cleared to play just a week after fearing he'd suffered a season-ending knee injury and the Tonga prop played 73 minutes.
A Fifita offload, his second in the opening six minutes, led to the first try of the match by Test winger Valentine Holmes, who raced onto a perfectly-weighted Josh Dugan kick from 35metres out to gather the ball in the in-goal and score.
Cronulla hooker Jayden Brailey looked to have grabbed his side's second try in the 11th minute after Moylan had led the chase from a Chad Townsend kick and stripped the ball from rookie Panthers winger Christian Crichton in his own in goal, but review officials ruled a knock-on.
After such an energetic start, the Sharks needed to show some resilience after Lewis limped from the field. Joseph Paulo soon followed him up the tunnel for a HIA.
The Panthers hit back when winger Dallin Watene-Zelezniak scored in the corner and Maloney converted from the sideline to put the visitors ahead 6-4 in the 21st minute.
Kangaroos prop Reagan Campbell-Gillard thought he had scored again for Penrith a few minutes later after five-eighth Tyrone Peachey leaped above Moylan to get a hand to a Maloney kick but replays showed the ball went forward in the Sharks in-goal.
Interchange forward Scott Sorenson turned momentum back Cronulla's way when he showed footwork his famous relatives Dane and Kurt never displayed to turn Peter Wallace inside out before outpacing Dylan Edwards to score in the 30th minute.
Leading 10-6 at halftime, the Sharks started the second term as they did the first and centre Jesse Ramien crossed in the 45th minute after Dugan fielded a Maloney kick on his own line and raced down the touchline to spark an attacking raid which ended 80 metres downfield.
However, the injection of Sione Katoa at dummy half paid almost immediate dividends for the Panthers after he threaded a grubber kick through the Cronulla goal line defence for fullback Dylan Edwards to pounce on the ball and score.
Ramien's second try in the 67th minute appeared to put the game beyond Penrith's reach but they never gave up and tries to Isaah Yeo and Villiame Kikau in the last three minutes saw them go close to snatching an unlikely win.