A strong attacking display has seen the Cronulla Sharks secure fourth position courtesy of a 30-18 win over the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs, played before a crowd of 14,189 fans at ANZ Stadium.
Coming into the match off the back of three consecutive wins, the results sees Shane Flanagan's side guaranteed a second chance in the play-offs, while a win against the Sydney Roosters next week will see the 2016 champions within 80 minutes of the premiership decider.
Following an error-riddled opening that saw the Bulldogs post first points via a penalty goal, a succession of tries to Kurt Capewell (11th minute), Andrew Fifita (16th minute) and Josh Dugan (22nd minute) allowed the Sharks to establish a 16-2 lead inside the opening quarter to give faint hope to the 62-point margin needed to overtake South Sydney into third position.
Showing strong resolve to fight back courtesy of several impressive runs from departing club legend Josh Morris, the home side managed to narrow the score to 16-12 with four-pointers to Will Hopoate (26th minute) and Michael Lichaa (36th minute), however a millimetre-perfect finish from Sosaia Feki on the stroke of halftime allowed the visitors to take a 20-12 advantage into the change of ends.
A try to Valentine Holmes (45th minute) just after halftime provided the Sharks with a 12-point buffer only for fellow departing Bulldogs speedster Brett Morris (53rd minute) to strike back. However the respite was short-lived for the home side as Feki (56th minute) streaked away from a scrum play moments later to round out the scoring.
With the Sharks unable to drive home their dominance and the Bulldogs failing to set up a grandstand finish, the understated finish brought the regular season to a close for the respective teams.
Having struggled early on in 2018, a much-improved showing from Canterbury over the second half of the season looks set to reap rewards next year with a number of new recruits heading to the kennel intent on improving upon the 12th placed finish.
After a slow start to the season the Sharks look set for another tilt at the premiership and appear set to regain the services of departing centres Ricky Leutele and Jesse Ramien for next week's Qualifying Final.
Next week the Sharks will face the Roosters in the 1st v 4th Qualifying Final at Allianz Stadium at a time to be determined, while the Bulldogs will enjoy their end-of-season festivities before returning for pre-season in November.