Cronulla Sharks thrash New Zealand Warriors 42-16 to take giant stride towards 2019 NRL finals

Cronulla have strengthened their position in the top eight with a 42-16 thrashing of the New Zealand Warriors on Saturday.

The Sharks climbed to seventh place above Brisbane to give themselves an excellent chance of qualifying for the finals with two games of the regular season remaining.

Cronulla produced one of their best performances of the season on a picture perfect shire afternoon to celebrate 2016 premiership-winning prop Matt Prior's 250th NRL game in style.

While the Warriors were awful, the Sharks did not allow themselves to be dragged down to the visitors' level. If they are to not just feature in the finals but have a genuine impact, Cronulla will need to remain as clinical and disciplined as they were against the Warriors.

The Sharks were clunky at best in their win over St George Illawarra last weekend but were polished by contrast against the Warriors.

Josh Dugan produced a strong performance at fullback in the absence of Matt Moylan, while Shaun Johnson was man of the match against his former club as he had a hand in a number of Sharks tries. The Kiwi five-eighth's goal kicking has come in for criticism this season but Johnson enjoyed a perfect afternoon with the boot, slotting seven goals from as many attempts.

He also became just the fourth New Zealand player to pass 1000 NRL points, with Johnson notching the milestone in his 178th game.

Johnson congratulated Prior on his milestone and was delighted with Cronulla's performance.

"[We] definitely built on what we did last week. It's always a tricky game playing a side coming off a poor performance. They were wanting to bounce back today and we knew we had to be good if we were going to get the win," he said.

"It was actually a lot easier to focus [on playing against the Warriors] this time around than a couple of weeks ago in Wellington. I didn't really enjoy that one, it was a weird feeling. But this time we just had a good week and with [Prior] playing his 250th our focus was on putting in a good performance for him.

"[We're] very happy. Any time you pick up wins [at] this time of year is very important."

It didn't take Cronulla long to get started, with young centre Bronson Xerri charging over from close range in the first minute after an outstanding offload from Dugan.

The Warriors hit back shortly after when David Fusitu'a batted down a Blake Green kick for Patrick Herbert to score.

But Cronulla blew the game open with two quick tries to lead 18-4 at the midway point of the opening half. Firstly Josh Morris celebrated his 33rd birthday by finishing off some classy work from young winger Ronaldo Mulitalo down the right side before Dugan's superb solo effort.

The Warriors tried to stay in touch with Isaiah Papali'i reducing the deficit with a strong run back on the angle to score next to the posts just before the half hour mark.

The Sharks though would take a 24-10 lead to half-time when Briton Nikora produced a strong run, crashing through a hole from a short Johnson pass.

It was one of Cronulla's best first half performances of the season, only soured by groin and ankle injuries to Sosaia Feki and Jack Williams respectively, with the pair forced from the field and facing scans on Sunday to determine the extent of the problems.

The Sharks went on with it in the second half, with Braden Hamlin-Uele running a clever angle and showing great speed and strength to score from Chad Townsend's pass.

Cronulla were 36-10 in front when Xerri danced back towards the posts and produced a diagonal kick towards the opposite corner post, with Mulitalo just beating Dugan to touch down the loose ball.

The Warriors hit back with a classy try against the run of play when Roger Tuivasa-Sheck glided across the ground before floating a sublime cut out pass for Fusitu'a to dive over in the corner.

Josh Morris scored his second try of the afternoon to put some extra gloss on the score, pouncing on a loose Warriors pass 40 metres from their own goal line to race away and touch down for his 22nd career double.

The 26-point victory saw Cronulla move to 24 points in seventh place. Their for and against also got a healthy boost, with the Sharks now likely to be able to lose one of their final two matches and still qualify for the finals in rookie coach John Morris' first season in charge.

Leader Scoreboard

Cronulla Sharks 42 (Josh Morris two, Bronson Xerri, Josh Dugan, Briton Nikora, Braden Hamlin-Uele, Ronaldo Mulitalo tries. Shaun Johnson seven goals)

defeated

New Zealand Warriors 16 (Patrick Herbert, Isaiah Papali'i, David Fusitu'a tries. Issac Luke, Patrick Herbert goals)

at PointsBet Stadium, Woolooware

Leader man of the match: Shaun Johnson (Sharks)

Sharks' next two: Raiders (home), Tigers (away)

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