Cronulla’s ill-discipline this season has come back to haunt them after becoming the latest defending NRL premiers to fail in pursuit of back-to-back titles.
The Sharks were unexpectedly bombed out of the finals by North Queensland in a 15-14 elimination final thriller on Sunday.
Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan gave an almighty serve to referees post-game, however the Sharks will be left to rue another poor completion rate.
Flanagan’s men completed just 63 per cent of their 43 sets at Allianz Stadium, less than their league-worst 74 per cent for the season.
They were also caned 11-5 in the penalty count, although this too is on par with the 7.2 a game they’ve been pinged with this year – second in the NRL.
Their dramatic yet disappointing exit comes after an inconsistent Sharks lost three of their final five games of the regular season.
Two of those wins were against the Warriors and Newcastle.
Cronulla enhanced their defensive reputation they earned last year with another gritty campaign, and they again looked to hold out the Cowboys on Saturday.
North Queensland enjoyed more than double the Sharks’ 17 plays inside the opposition 20-metre zone at Allianz Stadium.
But while Flanagan was quick to point out what he believes were mistakes by the referees, he admitted his men also failed to make the most of their ball use.
“I thought we were brave. I thought both teams played some real tough yardage, some tough footy,” he said after the game.
“We were a bit clunky when we got in there. We turned the ball over once or twice when we got in good field position, but it was a tough semi-final.
“It was a good game, just really disappointed in how the result came about.”
The Sharks’ elimination saw Jack Bird and Gerard Beale play their final games in for the club, while veteran Chris Heighington is unsigned for next season.
Speculation also continues to swirl on the future of five-eighth James Maloney, who remains contracted for one more year but has been linked with a move.
NSW State of Origin centre Josh Dugan is the club’s major recruit for 2018, alongside Aaron Gray (South Sydney) and Ava Seumanufagai (Wests Tigers).