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4 days ago
Newcastle's premiership defence lay in tatters on Sunday, with a lengthening queue of contenders led by a rampant Cronulla ready to take advantage of the ailing premier.
On a tumultuous weekend in the National Rugby League, the Sharks laid their premiership credentials on the table with a brilliant display at Toyota Park, racing in 11 tries in a 64-14 thrashing of the Knights.
Across the Tasman, the New Zealand Warriors silenced their critics - for the time being at least - and ended the Bulldogs' 17-game winning streak with a 22-14 win at Ericsson Stadium on Saturday night.
And on Friday night, the Sydney Roosters showed they wouldn't be whipping boys in the finals with a 28-18 win over Brisbane at ANZ Stadium.
But it was the Sharks - rank outsiders with the bookmakers after an early season seven-match losing streak which began with a 52-8 loss to Newcastle - who produced the most dominant performance of the weekend.
It was their ninth win in a row and by far their most impressive, played out behind a brilliant performance from the competition's form player - halfback Brett Kimmorley.
Newcastle coach Michael Hagan used words like "dumbfounded" and "speechless" to describe the darkest day in his club's history.
Throw in embarrassing and morale-sapping for good measure.
"We certainly haven't played like that for a long time so I sincerely hope that doesn't happen again," Hagan said.
The Sharks are suddenly serious title threats, with Kimmorley continuing to win over the club's fans behind a dominant pack.
The ex-Test halfback easily won his duel with Newcastle and Australian No.7 Andrew Johns, finishing the match with a club-record 28 points.
"We're playing some good football at the moment but we have to because we had a really bad start," coach Chris Anderson said.
"We're setting some good standards which is great."
Warriors coach Daniel Anderson refused to talk up his side's premiership aspirations today, but they were there for all to see against the league leaders.
The Warriors' pack was relentless, allowing halfback Stacey Jones to orchestrate an emphatic victory that lifted the New Zealand side into outright third, one point behind Brisbane.
"It takes years of winning play-offs and playing in play-offs until you get a reputation as a play-off team and win a premiership," Anderson said.
The Roosters retained sixth spot when ex-Broncos Justin Hodges tore apart his former side at ANZ Stadium.
But the win came at a price, with his centre partner Shannon Hegarty breaking his jaw.
Parramatta and the Northern Eagles remain in seventh and eighth, with the Eels ahead on points difference.
Both sides enjoyed wins at the weekend, although they came in differing styles.
The Eels ended an eight-match winless streak with a 54-0 thrashing of Souths, although they finished the match without fullback Brett Hodgson (dislocated shoulder) and hooker Daniel Irvine (leg injury).
Referee Shayne Hayne placed Rabbitohs forward Jamie Fitzgerald on report for a late shot on five-eighth Ben Kusto.
The Northern Eagles, on the other hand, scored a last-gasp 20-18 win over St George Illawarra at Aussie Stadium, giving them a decisive three-point edge over the Dragons with four rounds remaining.
St George Illawarra captain Trent Barrett admitted afterwards that his side's finals campaign was hanging by a thread.
"It's certainly not beyond us but we've been saying that all year," Barrett said.
"We're running out of time."
Canberra and Melbourne are breathing down the Eagles' and Eels' necks after wins over North Queensland and the Wests Tigers.
The Raiders scored an unconvincing 26-6 win over Wests Tigers at Canberra Stadium today while the Storm beat the Cowboys 40-30 in Townsville last night.
Cowboys prop Tim Maddison - suspended earlier this year for ten weeks - was put on report early in the first half for allegedly tripping hooker Richard Swain.
Melbourne and Canberra are on 21 points, a point behind the Eagles and Eels.