An injury-ravaged Knights outfit pushed Cronulla for 60 minutes but couldn't hold on as exciting youngster Kyle Flanagan enjoyed a successful NRL debut at Southern Cross Group Stadium on Sunday.
Flanagan and his coach and father Shane became the first father-son NRL player-coach pairing since Martin and John Lang in 2004 in Cronulla's 38-12 win – one that keeps their top-four hopes very much alive.
The Sharks' win moved them to fourth with 32 competition points and a for and against of +84. The Dragons entered their match against the Bulldogs on 30 points and with a differential of +75.
The Knights had little luck, losing back-rower Lachlan Fitzgibbon after a first-half head clash with team-mate Josh King and five-eighth Connor Watson to a groin strain shortly after halftime while also being on the wrong end of a 12-5 penalty count.
Flanagan was impressive in his debut, running and passing crisply on the left edge and not overplaying his hand while Chad Townsend stepped up to steer the ship admirably.
Match: Sharks v Knights
Round 24 -
Venue: Southern Cross Group Stadium
The final game at Shark Park for retiring veteran Luke Lewis and departing players Edrick Lee, Ricky Leutele, Jesse Ramien and Joseph Paulo saw the five farewelled in style - Lee bagged a double and Lewis was strong while the others were not in the 17 but given a halftime farewell.
The Sharks dominated through the middle with Andrew Fifita given far more minutes than in recent weeks and Aaron Woods again excellent in a big stint off the bench while fullback Holmes was scintillating, particularly in the second half as the Sharks ran away with it.
The Knights did well to keep it close but a lack of troops and a lack of ball counted against them heavily at the back end of the game.
Holmes opened the scoring in the ninth minute with a penalty goal as the Sharks enjoyed an early run of penalties.
They ignored a further free two points in the 23rd minute to their immediate benefit as Josh Dugan scored the game's opening try from a nice Chad Townsend cut-out ball.
The Knights clawed six points back when Nick Meaney cleaned up the scraps from a dangerous Mitch Pearce grubber in the 33rd minute but another spate of penalties – which blew the halftime count out to 9-3 in favour of the home side – resulted in Aidan Guerra being sent to the sin bin.
The Sharks cashed in right before the halftime siren when Edrick Lee skipped over from another Townsend floating cut-out and Holmes' perfect sideline conversion made it 14-6 at the break.
The Knights made it through to Guerra's return without further incident but were breached almost immediately upon his return when Holmes used his pace to get outside the Knights right-side defence to send Sosaia Feki over for an 18-6 advantage.
Bench prop Luke Yates – who was asked to fill in at dummy-half for Danny Levi for a spell in the second half – threw some horror passes when asked to bend his back but showed some handy ball skills with a nice short ball to put Daniel Saifiti over under the sticks to make it a six-point ball-game with just over 20 minutes to play.
The Sharks clawed the advantage straight back via a scintillating Holmes run with the fullback splitting the line then burning his opposing fullback one-on-one to make it 24-12.
The try was Holmes' 20th of the season, a new club record for the Sharks.
Another penalty goal came in the 70th minute before Lee bagged his second when Dugan batted back a Graham kick seven minutes from tim.
Townsend then finished off a quality team try in the 77th minute to blow the final score out as Cronulla hit their strides heading into September.
News & Notes: The Sharks retired jersey No.12 for the match in honour of former Shark Lance Thompson, who passed away during the week, with Wade Graham wearing jersey No.23... Aidan Guerra was sin-binned for repeated infringements in the 37th minute ... Mitch Barnett was placed on report for a crusher tackle on Andrew Fifita ... Next week: Sharks play Bulldogs at ANZ Stadium on Sunday while the Knights host the Dragons on Saturday ... Crowd: 11,836.