Shaun Johnson, playing a week after he was told by Cronulla he was not wanted for next season, has kicked the winning field goal to sink Penrith 19-18 in Kogarah.
In Friday night’s earlier match, Manly showed it could win without Tom Trbojevic via a 50-18 thrashing of North Queensland at Brookvale Oval.
At Jubilee Stadium in Kogarah, Johnson proved the hero for the Sharks when he broke an 18-18 deadlock with his field goal from 35 metres out in the 78th minute.
The Sharks had led 18-0 until the 58th minute when Matt Burton scored two tries and set up another to get the Panthers back in the game despite being without most of their State of Origin stars.
But the win was soured by Sharks captain Wade Graham suffering his third concussion this season.
Graham, 30, copped two big blows to the head midway through the first half while attempting to make a tackle on Panthers winger Robert Jennings and groggily stumbled to his feet.
He passed the HIA in the sheds but was ruled out of the remainder of the game after showing symptoms of a concussion on the field.
To make matters worse, he hyper-extended his left knee when getting up.
Already this season Graham failed to finish games against Parramatta and Sydney Roosters with two concussions in 15 days before having a fortnight off.
He then copped another knock on his return match against Melbourne back in round eight, which raised concerns about his playing future and low-tackling technique.
At best, the Sharks could take their time with his return to the field considering that recent history.
His head knocks marred what was a brilliant victory for his team, in which Matt Moylan and Johnson starred.
Five-eighth Moylan put his case for a new contract under incoming coach Craig Fitzgibbon next season by winding back the clock against his former club.
A 55-metre dash for the Sharks’ first try tested his troublesome hamstrings but they held up to get Cronulla on the board after seven minutes.
Johnson also scored soon after, while lively winger Ronaldo Mulitalo got the Sharks to an 18-0 lead at half-time.
Faced with their just second loss of the season, the Panthers kicked into gear in the second half to liven up the contest, led by Burton with half an hour left to play.
Five of Penrith’s Origin players watched on from the sidelines, with Nathan Cleary, Brian To’o, Jarome Luai, Isaah Yeo and Kurt Capewell rested 48 hours after Wednesday night’s series opener.
Penrith forward Liam Martin was the only player to back up from Origin duty, having punched out 30 minutes for the Blues in their 50-6 win on Wednesday night.
While immediate concerns will be for Sharks captain Graham, the Panthers have their own troubles.
Second rower Viliame Kikau was taken off late in the game for a HIA, while hooker Api Koroisau was put on report twice — once for tripping and another for a lifting tackle on Aaron Woods.
Sea Eagles punish Cowboys
Manly claimed its biggest NRL win without Trbojevic since his 2015 debut.
Renowned for struggling without Trbojevic, who was rested following his three-try display in Origin I, Manly’s attack unleashed on the Cowboys to comprehensively overturn a 12-0 deficit after just nine minutes.
The win marked just the Sea Eagles’ 10th in 33 games without Trbojevic since the start of 2019, and moved them two points clear of North Queensland in sixth place.
Such was their turnaround compared to the start of the season without Trbojevic, the Sea Eagles only scored 47 points without him in the first five rounds of the year.
The 50 points on Friday evening was the most they have scored without the star fullback since his 2015 NRL debut.
The margin of victory surpassed their previous biggest win without Trbojevic, which stood at just 20 points.
The Cowboys in comparison were horrible.
The visitors completed just 21 sets for the game, holding just 42 per cent of possession and missing 38 tackles.
Scott Drinkwater provided the only real highlights when he kicked for their first try and threw a two-man cut-out ball for their second.
Manly’s points rush began when Daly Cherry-Evans and Kieran Foran combined to put Brad Parker over on that edge.
Another came down that side when Parker earned a quick play-the-ball and Karl Lawton capitalised out of dummy half.
Parker scored another try from a long Cherry-Evans ball in the 77th minute.
On another occasion, Lachlan Croker caught the Cowboys short on their right to put Moses Suli through a gap, backing up himself inside.
Cherry-Evans, meanwhile, was superb on the night Manly honoured the late Bob Fulton.
The captain finished with four try assists, kicking once for a chasing Dylan Walker, another time for Kieran Foran as well as for Haumole Olakau’atu.
Incredibly, the big second-rower Olakau’atu scored twice from kicks, collecting another from Croker.