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Cronulla coach John Morris has apologised to Sharks fans after a sensational night of ill-discipline saw Chad Townsend sent off, three other players put on report and their finals run placed in jeopardy by a "nightmare" 38-10 thrashing from Newcastle.

Townsend is facing between three and five weeks on the sidelines after being charged with a grade three shoulder charge, while forwards Wade Graham and Toby Rudolf were also charged over a lifting tackle.

If all three enter early guilty pleas Townsend will miss three weeks, Graham two and Rudolf none.

Townsend's shoulder charge to the head of Newcastle's hat-trick hero Kalyn Ponga was the flashpoint in the fieriest of affairs, with Morris declining to argue otherwise after fulltime.

"It’s a shoulder charge," Morris said.

"There was force there, his arm was tucked. I’m not going to deny that. Whether it was a send-off I’m not so sure.

"Maybe he could have stayed on the field ... but the rules are the rules. I feel for Chaddy, I don’t think he’s ever even been sin-binned in his career, let alone sent off."

Speaking to Fox Sports after fulltime Ponga said Townsend's first contact was with his own chest rather than his head.

"I was on the ground and he was above me that's how it unfolded," Ponga said, having already copped a broken nose earlier in the contest.

Townsend sent off for shoulder charge on Ponga

"It is what it is. It was sweet, he got my body and then I fell back."

Townsend's return from a five-week calf injury lasted less than one hour, but by that point the Sharks were already fried.

A 22-4 halftime lead was Newcastle's reward for their best 40 minutes of the season, with Morris issuing a public apology to Cronulla fans for a game that went down the gurgler from the first whistle.

"We kicked off out on the full and it was awful, just absolutely awful," Morris said.

"I didn't think I'd be in the position to apologise to our fans but I have to after that. It was so far outside the standards of what we set ourselves at the club.

"We've been known for gritty and tough performances and we just didn't turn up tonight with the right attitude and we absolutely got our pants pulled down.

Ponga explodes through the middle

"We're still in the eight but certainly after games like that we don't deserve to be. Blokes have got to have a real good hard look at themselves."

Morris said the ugly lifting tackle by Rudolf and Graham on Mason Lino, and the careless effort of Hamlin-Uele on Klemmer "comes from poor sloppy tackles, not getting in the right positions, not getting their shoulders in and making good tackles.

"It leads to lifting legs and crap that we don't practice, which I was angry about."

The Sharks do at least expect to have Shaun Johnson back next week for a critical showdown with his old Warriors side, while dropped big earners Matt Moylan and Andrew Fifita will also come back into the selection frame.

As costly as Cronulla's trip to the Hunter may be, Newcastle turned in arguably their best performance of 2020.

Coming after 28 points were leaked in the second half to the Warriors just six days ago, Newcastle's blistering opening amounted to a 46-point turnaround in just 80 minutes of action.

Tracey does it all himself

Ponga had himself a double by the break as he exposed a Sharks middle defence all at sea, while Starford To'a joined him with a first-half brace out wide as well.

The Queensland Origin gun finished with the first hat-trick of his career, 15 tackle busts and 222 running metres, the only blemish on his night a couple of shanks off the kicking tee.

Lino will surely take that role full time now after knocking over four goals from five attempts and repaying Adam O'Brien's faith after the Warriors whacking.

Cronulla's spectacular collapse meanwhile breathes more life into the Warriors finals fairytale, with a chance to draw within two competition points of the eighth-placed Sharks if they upset Parramatta on Sunday.

Just how many troops Cronulla will have when they host the Kiwi side at Kogarah next week will be dictated first by Saturday's match review findings, and most likely next Tuesday's judiciary.