Cronulla have emerged as genuine top four contenders just short of the quarter-way mark of the NRL season following their 40-16 dismantling of Canberra on Sunday.
On the back of a brilliant Ben Barba double and guided by James Maloney and Andrew Fifita, the Sharks looked every bit a premiership threat in tearing apart the injury-hit Raiders.
It was their fourth win in a row, taking them to 5-2, with the strong start boding well after they limped out of the blocks to be 0-4 last year.
But most importantly, they put on a big score, something they have rarely done over seasons 2015-16. While renowned as scrappers and fighters, they showed that they were evolving into a slick attacking unit.
“We’ve probably been a team the last couple of years where we can go into a dogfight and scrap it out, but to be able to score 40 is pleasing,” coach Shane Flanagan said.
“We haven’t done it too often. I hope we can do it more regularly this year.”
The Sharks are now ensconced in the top four in third spot, only behind last year’s grand finalists Brisbane and North Queensland.
“I think we’re developing,” Flanagan said. “We’re improving week after week but there’s still a lot of improvement in us.”
Melbourne remain just outside the top four after a Cooper Cronk golden point field goal saw them rack up their fifth victory of the year, a 19-18 defeat of Wests Tigers.
Brisbane five-eighth Anthony Milford turned in a masterclass to lead his side to a 53-0 win over Newcastle with winger Corey Oates also bagging a hat-trick as they remained top of the table.
North Queensland meanwhile flexed their premiership muscle with a 44-18 dismantling of South Sydney on Friday which showed they look in good shape to be the first back-to-back champions in over 20 years.
The Warriors snuck home 24-20 against Canterbury but were struck a big blow when star recruit Roger Tuivasa-Sheck left the field with a possible season-ending knee injury.
After failing to score a point in their previous two outings, St George Illawarra got back in the winner’s circle as fullback Josh Dugan fired them to a 19-14 win over Gold Coast.
Kieran Foran made his return to Brookvale Oval a successful one with Parramatta rallying late to beat Manly 22-10 on Thursday night to sit in fourth.