Warriors coach Nathan Brown was frustrated with some of his players - namely the twice sin-binned Kane Evans - for taking the bait from Sharks antagonist Will Chambers.
But despite being reduced to 12 men on three occasions, with Chanel Harris-Tavita binned for the last play of the game due to a professional foul, the Warriors came from behind to win 18-16 at Cbus Super Stadium on Saturday.
They started strongly as props Addin Fonua-Blake and Matt Lodge dominated the middle, but the game changed when Evans was marched for throwing two punches at Chambers.
Evans had taken exception to being slammed in a tackle involving Chambers and after a verbal stoush in the 35th minute, he let two hard left hands fly at his rival, though he didn't cleanly connect.
Cronulla took advantage of the extra man with Briton Nikora and Will Kennedy scoring to give their team a 16-6 lead at the break.
Match: Warriors v Sharks
Round 21 -
Venue: Cbus Super Stadium, Gold Coast
A week after being hooked for losing his cool during a slanging match with Manly's Dylan Walker, Chambers again incessantly niggled.
Commentators reported hearing the veteran's barbs reverberating around the crowd-less stadium and he channelled James Maloney by tossing a stray boot into the grandstand.
Evans was given his second lot of marching orders in the 64th minute after being pulled up for a head slam on Chambers.
In a spiteful match, three Warriors were also placed on report alongside Evans – Josh Curran, Harris-Tavita and Dallin Watene-Zelezniak - as well as Sharks second-rower Nikora.
"You get the win and we'll get through that more on Monday," Brown said when asked about Evans' first-half brain snap.
"Probably the most disappointing thing was we had some senior players, I suppose, just engaging with Will.
Aitken shrugging off defenders at will
"And, as I explained to a couple of them at half-time who had lost their way, Will can engage in it and still play reasonably well.
"Our blokes were engaging in it and not playing well. It had a bad effect on our football team. We pretty much leaked two tries because Will was a bit smarter than us. That was the disappointing thing.
"Sin-binnings do happen, we don't want them to happen, but, yeah – Will was a little bit smarter than a couple of our experienced blokes."
The tag-team effort of Fonua-Blake (227 metres) and recent recruit Lodge (137 metres) went a long way to getting the Warriors home.
"They're both high-quality players … I thought Addin in particular in the second half was probably the standout player on the field," said Brown, who was happy with his side's resilience under adversity.
"Cronulla, in the second half early on, had a few sets on our line when we only had 12 [men] and I thought we handled it pretty well.
Kennedy the spark for Tracey
"I thought as a whole defensively the boys tidied themselves up in the second half. There were some things where some boys came up with some pretty special efforts, which you need."
Warriors winger Dallin Watene-Zelezniak stood up Ronaldo Mulitalo with some slick footwork to open the scoring in the third minute after a lovely long ball from halfback Sean O'Sullivan.
Eventually, fullback Kennedy helped get the Sharks on the board in the 29th minute, dummying and zipping clear before finding Connor Tracey in support to score after a 60-metre movement.
With Evans off the field, Cronulla went ahead when Nikora picked out Reece Walsh and bulldozed the fullback from close range.
Evans in the bin again, this time for a head slam on Chambers
Kennedy combined with Mulitalo, who broke clear down the touchline before passing back inside to his teammate, to secure a brilliant long-range try in the shadows of half-time.
However, the Warriors halted the momentum in the second term with Walsh crossing after a smart offload from Curran.
Then Aitken, playing in his second match as a second-rower, continued his hot form as he tore away to level the scores.
Defying their numerical disadvantage with Evans banished, the New Zealand club poked their nose in front with Walsh kicking a penalty goal after Nikora was pinged for a crusher on Curran.
The Sharks curiously turned down an opportunity to square up with a penalty goal in the 74th minute. That backfired when Tracey kicked early in the tackle count and turned over possession.
Warriors five-eighth Harris-Tavita was sin-binned for deliberately slowing down the play at the death, allowing Cronulla one final play.
But a two-point field goal attempt from Braydon Trindall was awry, hurting the Sharks' finals hopes and keeping the Warriors' alive.