Cronulla’s top-four hopes remain on track, after they held on for a 26-12 win over South Sydney at home on Friday night.
The Sharks were far from convincing in a tight second half after they led 14-6 at the break, but their experience showed in the big moments before they kicked home in the last 10 minutes.
Without NSW Origin utility Jack Bird, Cronulla were in danger of dropping their third game in four outings when the Rabbitohs fought their way back to 14-12 after 53 minutes.
Souths then had a stack of attacking opportunities, but when Braidon Burns fumbled a deep Adam Reynolds’ kick in goals, the Sharks marched down field and seized control of the match in the final 10 minutes.
Ultimately, when five-eighth James Maloney grubbered for the posts with 10 minutes to go and Chad Townsend scooped the ball up to find Gerard Beale, the Sharks were safe.
“It was in the balance a few times, but I just thought we won a few more moments at important stages,” Sharks coach Shane Flanagan said.
“A couple of kicks that we defended, a couple of seven-tackle sets from kick pressures.”
Maloney was the Sharks’ best, after he laid on the opening try for Wade Graham on the left edge in the fourth minute.
The No 6 also helped put the icing on the cake for Cronulla in Luke Lewis’ 300th game, after he kicked for Ricky Leutele to score with three minutes to play.
“The way they handled the last eight minutes was really important,” Flanagan said.
“It was good game management at the end.”
Souths’ 12th loss of the season ended any remote hopes they had of making finals.
Making matters worse, captain Sam Burgess walked off with a possible cracked rib injury from a heavy Matt Prior tackle in the dying minutes.
After being flogged last week by Gold Coast, the defending premiers’ attack appeared back on track in the opening stages as hooker Fa’amanu Brown made it two tries in 22 minutes.
Halfback Townsend kicked superbly, while James Segeyaro sparked the Sharks through the middle in his second game back from a broken arm.
It moved the Sharks provisionally into fourth spot on the ladder, ahead of Manly’s clash on Sunday with St George Illawarra.
Meanwhile, Souths coach Michael Maguire was left to lament missed opportunities late in the second half.
“There was a time in the game where we could have put ourselves out in front,” he said.
“Those are big swings in games when they’re tight like that.”
Cronulla Sharks 26 (Gerard Beale, Fa’amanu Brown, Wade Graham, Ricky Leutele tries; James Maloney 5 goals) South Sydney Rabbitohs 12 (Braidon Burns, John Sutton tries; Adam Reynolds 2 goals) at Southern Cross Group Stadium. Referee: Ben Cummins, David Munro. Crowd: 12,123