A last gasp Shaun Johnson field goal has secured the Cronulla Sharks a dramatic 19-18 victory over the Panthers at Netstrata Jubilee Stadium tonight.
Told he was unwanted in the Shire next year, the Kiwi halfback put himself in the shop window for other clubs looking for a proven match winner when he launched a 35-metre shot with a minute left on the clock to give his side their third win in a row. The Sharks win saw the previously undefeated Panthers collect their second loss on the trot, however they were missing five Origin stars.
To use a tired cliché, it was a game of two halves when Johnson inspired his side to an early 18-0 lead, to be almost run down by a rampant Matt Burton, who after a quiet first half grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck and almost snatch victory for his side.
The Sharks got off to a fast start when winger Ronaldo Mulitalo burst through the line and took off down the right-hand side. Mulitalo then found the veteran in Matt Moylan trailing in support and former Panthers star showed enough speed to power away to score a superb runaway try to get his side on the scoreboard.
Panthers fullback Dylan Edwards was then penalised for an attempted strip and Sharks goalkicker Johnson took the two points on offer to extend the home side's lead to 8-0 after 15 minutes.
Cronulla continued to pressure the Penrith line, when Johnson put up a bomb on the last, which was calmly collected by Briton Nikora who managed an overhead gridiron pass back to Johnson in support to score and extend the Sharks lead to 12-0 following Johnson's missed conversion from out wide.
A bizarre penalty given away off the kick-off against Viliame Kikau who deliberately ran Briton Nikora off the ball and Johnson had a Mulligan for his earlier missed conversion to extend the Sharks lead to 14-0.
Cronulla again marched up field and in a beautiful sweeping play, Will Kennedy and Will Chambers combined to put Ronaldo Mulitalo over in the corner to score a crucial just before halftime to extend the score to 18-0 in a season best performance from Josh Hannay's men.
Penrith needed to score next and it was Bulldogs bound five-eighth Burton who scored the first try for his side, with a wicked left foot step close to the line leaving the Sharks defence grasping at thin air. Stephen Crichton converted to give the Panthers a chance at 18-6.
Matt Burton continued to find the right answer on the last tackle with several forced repeat sets, and then produced another deft kick behind the defensive line. This time the ball bounced up on a platter for rookie interchange player Izack Tago to score his first NRL try and narrow the Sharks lead to 18-12.
The Panthers continued their momentum to again charge upfield and it was the white-hot Burton again with the left foot step close to the line to score his second try. Crichton then missed the opportunity to tie up the match to trail by two points with six minutes left.
Crichton was then presented with atonement, when the Panthers were gifted a penalty from in front of the posts following a high tackle from Nikora on a rampaging Burton and Crichton managed to tie it up with minutes remaining in the match.
Johnson then had the home side in raptures when he snapped the winning field goal to give the Sharks a dramatic last gasp win.
Cronulla's season looks to have turned after a hat-trick of wins and they now head to Townsville next week where they face Valentine Holmes and the Cowboys next Friday night. Penrith will welcome back their big names from Origin duty in an absolute blockbuster next Friday against the Roosters back on home soil.