A battered and bruised Cronulla have hailed their 26-22 NRL win over Penrith as one of their toughest in a long time.
With Paul Gallen (knee) and Wade Graham (hamstring) watching from the Southern Cross Group Stadium sidelines on Sunday and after losing fellow veteran forward Luke Lewis to a calf strain in the 12th minute, the Sharks had every excuse.
Even with 828 NRL games worth of experience watching on, they refused to relent.
So bad is their mounting injury toll amongst their senior players that Andrew Fifita - their fourth-string skipper - had to take over captaincy duties.
Fifita was inspirational in the absence of his fellow big-name forwards, playing 73 minutes, running for 130 metres, making 35 tackles and six offloads.
After an injury-interrupted first six weeks, five-eighth Matt Moylan had his best game in Sharks colours, playing against his junior club, but is yet to hit his straps this year.
Penrith playmaker and former Sharks premiership winner James Maloney had an afternoon to forget, missing a simple conversion attempt in the dying moments and almost conceding a penalty try.
Sharks coach Shane Flanagan described the win as one of their bravest efforts in a long time.
"We're pretty battered," Flanagan said.
"I'm just proud of the whole group. That's Cronulla Sharks - we know it's there and we'll see that more often than not."
It was an important two points for Cronulla, who had lost their previous two and looked down on confidence.
The Sharks carried a 10-6 lead into halftime after Scott Sorensen produced a stunning individual effort to beat four defenders when there was nothing on.
The Sharks extended their advantage to 10 after Josh Dugan sliced open the Penrith defence from the back field and Jesse Ramien scored a few plays later.
Panthers replacement hooker Sione Katoa had been on the field for only three minutes when he grubbered for Dylan Edwards to reduce the deficit to six points.
But James Segeyaro returned in kind, dribbling the ball in-goal for Ramien's second try.
In the lead-up, Maloney took out Dugan and on-field referee Matt Cecchin said Cronulla would have been awarded a penalty try had Ramien not got to it first.
Tries to Isaah Yeo and Viliame Kikau in the final three minutes gave the Sharks a few nervous moments but the Panthers were never truly in the contest in the second half as they had their three-game winning streak snapped.
"We never give up all night," Panthers coach Anthony Griffin said.
"We just got our defence wrong a few times, kicks and transition and they have some classy outside backs and made us pay."
Penrith also have a nervous wait after Reagan Campbell-Gillard was put on report for an alleged crusher tackle.
Australian Associated Press