Cronulla have ended an emotional rollercoaster of a week on a high after trouncing Newcastle 38-12 on Sunday.
It wasn’t always pretty, but as they have done so often in recent years, the Sharks got the job done to leapfrog St George Illawarra and Penrith into fourth spot.
They led 18-12 after Daniel Saifiti went over untouched in the 57th minute before putting their foot on the throat of the injury-hit Knights.
The Sharks ran in three tries in the final 20 minutes with Valentine Holmes breaking the visitor’s back with a scintillating individual effort.
In the process he became the first Shark to cross for 20 tries in a season – surpassing the mark he previously jointly held with David Peachey.
Afterwards coach Shane Flanagan quipped that retaining Holmes was now the club’s No.1 priority and they would “sell the Leagues club” if that’s what it took to extend his contract beyond 2019.
The result also ensured grand final hero Luke Lewis went out a winner in his final game at Shark Park.
The game also marked the debut of Flanagan’s son Kyle due to Matt Moylan’s leg injury.
He was solid though understandably left Chad Townsend to monopolise the playmaking role.
Prop Andrew Fifita was impressive for the Sharks after copping criticism for his post-try scoring antics against the Cowboys last weekend.
Fifita made 188 metres from 20 carries, including a burst to lay the foundation for Edrick Lee’s first half try.
“We had the start of the week (Fifita) and we knew it was Luke’s last game at home,” Flanagan said.
“Then the unfortunate death of Lance (Thompson). Then for myself with Kyle making his debut.
“It’s been up and down all week and the players handled it really well, we ended up doing what we had to do.”
The Sharks paid tribute to former back-rower Thompson, who died on Thursday, with the club retiring his No.12 jersey for the day.
Meanwhile, Newcastle experienced more adversity after already missing superstar Kalyn Ponga due to a potentially season-ending ankle injury.
His replacement Connor Watson only lasted 49 minutes before aggravating a groin injury while Lachlan Fitzgibbon was unable to continue after being concussed in the first half.
However, the damage was also self-inflicted as they conceded 12 penalties, including the sin-binning of Aidan Guerra.
Frustrated Knights coach Nathan Brown suggested referees Jon Stone and Ziggy Przeklasa-Adamski were too inexperienced and shouldn’t have been put in charge of the game.
“To defend him (Stone), I feel he was out there against the most match-hardened, experienced team in the comp at home, who are very savvy guys,” Brown said.
“Maybe another game may have been a better choice for a rookie ref.”