A brilliant late try to Cronulla winger John Williams capped a gutsy 20-7 victory over South Sydney on Saturday night as the Sharks moved closer to sealing an NRL finals berth for the first time since 2008.
Williams scored a 45-metre try on the buzzer after pouncing on a grubber kick from Isaac De Gois who broke the Rabbitohs' line before finding his winger much to the delight of the crowd of 16,423 at Toyota Stadium.
Cronulla were trailling 7-6 with 12 minutes remaining after Adam Reynolds potted a field goal.
But the Sharks hit the lead in the 69th minute through powerful young forward Tyson Frizell, who barged over to score a converted try before Todd Carney slotted a penalty three minutes from fulltime to make it 14-7.
But following a host of late finishes involving Souths this year, Sharks fans had a tense run to the fulltime siren.
The win lifted Shane Flanagan's side above North Queensland and into fifth place with the Cowboys to play St George Illawarra on Monday night.
Souths have now lost two straight games for the first time this season but remain in third spot.
Cronulla led 6-0 at halftime with the Sharks scoring the only four-pointer of the opening 40 minutes through prop Andrew Fifita after great lead-up work by halfback Jeff Robson.
Souths looked completely out of sorts early but did manage to pepper Cronulla's line late in the half only to be repelled by some stoic defence.
The game opened with Souths second-rower Dave Taylor fumbling the kick-off before putting a foot into touch and with the exception of some dangerous kick returns from fullback Greg Inglis, the Rabbitohs looked very flat in attack.
Souths came to life early in the second half and levelled the scores when Sam Burgess powered his way over the line on 54 minutes after a simple switch of the attack by John Sutton but for the most part they were outclassed by Cronulla.
Flanagan admitted the win gave his side the boost in confidence they needed after some indifferent performances in the past month.
"I think even they started to doubt whether we could compete with sides like South Sydney but I was really pleased with the effort," he said.
The Cronulla coach said despite the win which almost certainly secures a finals berth, the Sharks wouldn't be getting ahead of themselves with two games remaining in the regular season against Melbourne and North Queensland.
"I don't know if it 100 per cent confirms it (finals) but we would be pretty unlucky to miss out but we're not going to sit back ... we'd like to win those games as well," he said.
"We've struggled a little bit in the last couple of weeks and I was really feeling the pressure and I didn't want the players to feel it and they came out and performed really well."
Sharks captain Paul Gallen said he can't wait to be part of semi-final football again.
"Not playing in them in the past three years has been pretty tough ... I went to most of the semis last year and the crowds and the hype and the build-up throughout the week is pretty big and pretty special," Gallen said.
"I remember when I first started we were always making the semis in 2001 and 2002 and I just thought next year, next year, but it just doesn't happen. I think we all had that attitude tonight that we were playing for our season and we played really well."
Souths coach Michael Maguire paid credit to Cronulla, particularly their forwards who won the battle up front.
"We probably didn't handle the arm wrestle as well as what they did, that was probably the biggest thing for us that we will take out of that game," Maguire said.
The Rabbitohs mentor was asked whether it was a concern Souths had not beaten a top eight side since defeating the Sharks in round nine.
"No, not at all. Every week we're growing as a group and we're
learning about different parts of our game that we need to improve
on," Maguire said.