Cronulla coach John Morris conceded halfback Chad Townsend faces an uphill battle to play next round after suffering a hamstring injury in Saturday night's 28-16 loss to the Wests Tigers at Bankwest Stadium.
The winless Sharks could head to Townsville to meet the in-form Cowboys without Townsend or star prop Andrew Fifita, who is carrying a knee injury and was a late withdrawal against the Tigers.
Townsend left the field with 12 minutes remaining, shortly after a missing a tackle that led to a crucial David Nofoaluma try, but Morris said the playmaker's benching was only related to his injury.
"Chaddy had some tightness in his hamstring. Luckily we had Matty Moylan in the team, but he was carrying it for kind of 10 minutes before we got him off just to see if it was going to improve or not, but it was getting worse and he couldn't sprint," Morris said.
"That wasn't ideal to lose your halfback when you're chasing some points. But you'd think he'd be in some sort of doubt next week if he couldn't finish the game with a hamstring complaint."
Match Highlights: Sharks v Wests Tigers
Morris "didn't want to make excuses" for Townsend's costly miss on Nofoaluma alongside Josh Dugan, but hinted it played a part.
"I'm sure he was under the pump, he was struggling a little bit with it," Morris said.
"That was probably a reflection of our night; we gave them some pretty cheap points and that was obviously a pretty ordinary moment."
If Townsend is out, Morris said Matt Moylan - who returned from injury off the bench against the Tigers - would likely slot into the halves. Connor Tracey is another option.
He also said he wants to ensure Fifita is fully fit before selecting him, but admitted the latest loss may force his hand.
Morris denied the drama surrounding Bronson Xerri's provisional suspension for failing an ASADA drug test was to blame for his side's display in which they gave up a six-point half-time lead.
"I felt we'd been pretty good actually during the week. We were able to focus on the job, we were really excited about coming here and resuming our season," he said.
"There's going to be excuses there for the boys but you won't find anyone in there using it as an excuse for our performance tonight ... We had 55 missed tackles and we just couldn't amount any sort of pressure with the end of our sets.
"I don't really put it down to anything in particular ... We completed enough of our sets but we just didn't build any pressure on them. They were too fresh on us and they rolled us through the middle. I just felt like we beat ourselves, really."
While Morris wouldn't declare the round four clash with North Queensland a must-win, captain Wade Graham said things were starting to get desperate given the shortened 20-round season.
"We have to win. We can't give any teams too much of a head start in a normal season ... Five rounds gone, we'll be chasing our tail if we go 0-and-4," Graham said.
"We've been backed into a corner now and it's no one's fault but ours."
On the other side, Tigers coach Michael Maguire was pleased with the fight his team showed to overrun the Sharks.
Grant roaring already for Wests Tigers
"We spoke about what was going on the first half [at half-time] and they changed and adapted and sort of built a bit more patience in that second half to capitalise and score a few tries," Maguire said.
Maguire praised his new-look spine, with club debutant Harry Grant impressing at hooker, Adam Doueihi performing solidly at fullback, and halves Benji Marshall and Luke Brooks combining well.
"I guess over the last two or three weeks, we've been fortunate through the circumstances that we've had a bit of time building a combination between those boys," he said.
"I could see that growing as the game was going on. We've still got a few times where we're still not where we need to be, and that will come in time spent playing together and training together."