The Warriors have recorded their biggest-ever win over Cronulla, piling on eight tries for a 44-12 victory at Go Media Stadium in Auckland on Sunday.
Warriors star Shaun Johnson celebrated the birth of his second daughter and his re-signing during the week with a dominant performance against his former club.
Johnson finished the match with three try assists and five goals as he and another former Shark, Luke Metcalf, tore the visitors to shreds in a disappointing afternoon for Craig Fitzgibbon's side.
The Sharks had all the running in the opening 15 minutes and looked like they were in for a big afternoon of their own when Nicho Hynes crashed his way over on the right edge with relative ease.
However, the Warriors brushed aside the slow start with Johnson and Wayde Egan taking control of the game with four tries in 11 minutes to set up a 22-6 half-time lead.
Johnson and Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad combined first to send Dallin Watene-Zelezniak over for his 14th try of the season before the Warriors playmaker sent Rocco Berry over on the right edge.
Warriors running rampant through CNK
Making matters worse for the Sharks was the early loss of Teig Wilton to a knee injury. The Warriors continued to target Wilton's edge with Johnson sending Addin Fonua-Blake over in near identical fashion.
The Warriors had their fourth of the afternoon when Egan ripped through the Sharks middle before finding Metcalf in support, who crossed for a four-pointer.
Andrew Webster's side almost had a fifth before the Sharks went close through Sione Katoa but were denied as replays showed he went into touch.
No luck for Sharks as unlikely runaway try brought back
The visitors were denied again in unfortunate circumstances when bench forward Tom Hazelton charged down a Johnson kick before racing 60 metres to score - only for replays to show a knock on in the lead-up.
Cronulla went close again shortly after through Ronaldo Mulitalo before the Warriors went over for their fifth via Berry and Nicoll-Klokstad in impressive fashion on the right edge.
A double to Watene-Zelezniak capped off a big afternoon for the Warriors, who notched their 11th victory of the season - their best efforts since they last reached the finals in 2018.
Cronulla's day worsened when Hynes was sin-binned in the final stages for a professional foul with Adam Pompey next to go over late.
Match: Warriors v Sharks
Round 20 -
Venue: Go Media Stadium, Auckland
- It was the first time in 10 games that the Warriors had led the Sharks at half-time.
- Warriors winger Dallin Watene-Zelezniak has now scored 15 tries in his past 11 games.
- In their last four wins the Warriors have scored 40 points on average.
- Sharks veteran Wade Graham was placed on report in the 34th minute for raising his leg in a tackle attempt.
- The Warriors have secured two wins in a season against the Sharks for the first time since 2010.
- The Warriors have now scored 30 points or more in five of their past six games.
- Cronulla lost back-rower Teig Wilton in the first half due to a knee injury.
- Shaun Johnson was taken from the field with seven minutes remaining after a lower leg concern.
- The Warriors completed at 92 percent for the afternoon and enjoyed 57 percent possession.
- Warriors centre Rocco Berry had one of his best games in the NRL with a try and two assists but got himself on report in the 73rd minute for a lifting tackle.
Play of the game
Shaun Johnson had all the tricks in attack on Sunday but it was his defensive play to deny Ronald Mulitalo in the 53rd minute that denied the Sharks any thought of a comeback.
The Warriors have been the big improvers in 2023 but it's their defence that has impressed most this season with Johnson's last-ditch effort the type required in the final weeks of the regular rounds.
Johnson is saving tries too
What they said
"I thought we weathered a storm early. They were winning the field position battle. It wasn't like we weren't trying or didn't turn up, we were probably just a bit keen. I thought we gathered ourselves really well at a crucial stage. We didn't want to score on every play. We built some pressure, and the big thing was we executed unbelievably well." - Warriors coach Andrew Webster.
"It's not good enough from us tonight. Although we started well tonight we got jumped on energy. It was a huge occasion for them. I felt it early and thought we were going OK but the reality was they outcompeted us and our defence wasn't good enough. They'll be defending [at training] this week." - Sharks coach Craig Fitzgibbon.
NRL Press Conference: Warriors v Sharks - Round 20, 2023
The Warriors will remain in Auckland but face a five-day turnaround ahead of a clash against the Raiders, who are coming off a big break due to the bye. Warriors forward Marata Niukore will return from suspension in a boost for the home side. The Sharks are back in action next Sunday against the Sea Eagles in an historic double-header that will include the Sharks NRLW side playing the Raiders prior to the NRL match. Dale Finucane (suspension) and Braden Hamlin-Uele (ribs) are due back in a boost but Teig Wilton (knee) is unlikely.