Chad Townsend sent a timely reminder to NSW coach Brad Fittler of his talents if the Blues consider changes in the halves for Origin II after leading Cronulla to an entertaining 42-22 defeat of Parramatta at Pointsbet Stadium on Saturday night.
Townsend, who Cronulla coach John Morris described as being in "career best form", scored a try and had a hand in several others as the Sharks celebrated the return of co-captain Wade Graham from a knee reconstruction with a razzle-dazzle performance to join Newcastle and Canberra in equal fourth place.
Teen sensation Bronson Xerri scored two tries after moving from the right edge to left centre to cover for the absence of NSW representative Josh Morris, who was the only Cronulla player involved in Origin I.
With Blues halves Nathan Cleary and Cody Walker under pressure to retain their places, Townsend could be an option for Fittler as he is an organising playmaker and boasts a good kicking game.
"I am not here to push his case for Origin but I know what you are going to get if you go with Chad Townsend," Morris said.
"You are going to get a consistent half who is going to execute a good game plan, bring a good kicking game and has all of the qualities of a good halfback."
Xerri explodes off the left foot
With New Zealand international Shaun Johnson delaying his return from a hamstring injury, it was again left to Townsend to lead Cronulla alongside rookie five-eighth Kyle Flanagan and he turned in a five-star performance.
"I'd hate to see what our year would look like if we didn't have Chad Townsend in our team because he is just vital for us," Morris said.
"He just steers the ship and his composure under pressure is really good. He is focused during the week on his preparation and has a real good handle of our game plan every week. He is out there calling all the shots and doing all the little things.
"He has just competed really hard this year, he is always diving on loose balls or chasing after breaks. I think he is in career best form."
The Sharks dominated from the outset, with Xerri scoring his first try in just the third minute after Townsend regathered his own grubber after it rebounded off an Eels defender and the 18-year-old centre stepped inside Mitchell Moses to score.
The night started badly for the Eels when skipper Clint Gutherson was concussed after a collision with Josh Dugan in the second minute and failed his HIA.
Fifita breaks through Moses
Five-eighth Will Smith moved to fullback and interchange forward David Gower was forced to play 78 minutes at five-eighth to cover for the loss of Gutherson.
The Eels announced the re-signing of Moses on a new three-year deal just before kick-off but it was a tough assignment for him without Gutherson and the pressure told when he kicked out on the full from a penalty near halfway in the 23rd minute.
Tonga prop Andrew Fifita made Parramatta pay when he scored in the ensuing set of possession after a Townsend pass put him on the outside of Moses and he pushed aside the Eels halfback before fending off Smith to cross in the 25th minute.
With Flanagan landing an earlier penalty goal after Parramatta lock Tepai Moeroa was placed on report for attacking the legs of Townsend after a kick, the Sharks led 14-0 and their dominance was highlighted by the fact Fifita had already run more than 100 metres.
Ferguson breaks away for Jennings to score
Moses got the Eels back into the game with a deftly placed grubber kick that was pounced on by winger Maika Sivo but they trailed 20-6 at halftime after Dugan scored with just eight seconds remaining on the clock.
Eels coach Brad Arthur was entitled to ask questions about the try after interchange forward Braden Hamlin-Uele came up with the ball when he and Flanagan had contested a bomb with Smith.
The Sharks quickly shifted the ball wide to Dugan to score but replays suggested Flanagan had knocked on in the mid-air contest.
However, there was no doubt the best team won, as Cronulla raced in three tries to lead 38-6 midway through the second half.
Townsend scored in the 43rd minute after starting and finishing a sweeping left side raid in which Graham, Xerri and Sosaia Feki also handled.
Flanagan raced 40 metres to score in the 56th minute after Hamlin-Uele picked up a fumbled ball by Junior Paulo and Xerri scored three minutes later.
Late tries to Sivo, Josh Hoffman and Michael Jennings added respectability to the score but the Eels have plenty to work on before hosting the Broncos in round 14.