Sharks coach John Morris has praised a pair of tough knocks from senior players Josh Dugan and Paul Gallen for helping the Sharks to a drought-breaking 16-14 win over the Cowboys on Thursday night at Pointsbet Stadium.
The 37-year-old captain wound the clock back with a match-high 236 metres and 37 tackles while Dugan, in doubt up til kick-off with a hamstring issue, copped a mountain of punishment in racking up 216 metres as the pair finished with the top two run-metre tallies from the match.
After the game, Morris joked the players had to check the dressing room walls for the words to the team song.
"That one feels pretty good," he smiled.
"It was the exact result we needed coming off five losses. It took to the 68th minute to get our noses in front and we had to hang on to last minute."
He said he was proud of the players and rapt with the way they hunkered down during the week after coming in for plenty of criticism during the losing run.
He also praised under-fire playmaker Shaun Johnson, who came up with some key plays including setting up the team's first and second tries.
Match Highlights: Sharks v Cowboys
"I thought he was good, Shauny," Morris said.
The last couple of weeks we haven't had any good-ball attack [but] it was a different story tonight.
"We worked hard to get out of our end and get to our kicks and made them start sets on their try-line.
"We kept doing it and doing it and made them crack in the end."
Morris admitted the team's confidence had taken a hit through some tight losses but conversely, the close nature of those losses proved they had not been far away.
"We were doing some good things in those losses; the boys had to keep believing. It's hard when you read negative stuff about our game."
He described Gallen's performance as "an unbelievable captain's knock".
"It was a real call to arms performance by our skipper this week. He really rallied the troops. He told them exactly what he wanted from them and he led from the front.
"That's the type of performance we needed from him… he wound the clock back, Galsa."
While there were some down moment's in Dugan's game – an early dropped ball handed the Cowboys a chance they took to score the first try, while a missed attempt to clean up a grubber could have created another.
If anything to ability to shrug off those errors to play a key role in the win was the most impressive part for Morris.
"It was a big knock'em down style of game for Duges. He was in everything. He was cleaning up kicks, got a few whacks around the head.
"He went into the game with a bit of an injury cloud with his hamstring and we were worried about playing him at fullback but we just weren't in a position to lose another fullback given [Matt] Moylan was out.
"He was in everything, scored a crucial try for us, took a few good catches at the back under pressure and ended with over 200 metres gained as well so it was a big performance by Duges."
Dugan and Johnson combine
Morris said he had seen a "more resilient" Dugan this year, with the former Kangaroo playing all bar one game and getting shuffled all around the backline.
"He's been less interrupted with injury. He's pretty good, he can bounce back from errors and setbacks within games. It wasn't a good start for him losing that ball, it led to their first try as well but he bounced back and found as a try and was solid as well."