The Cronulla Sharks were quietly working themselves back into finals contention, but they faced a tough test against the Penrith Panthers who were sitting pretty in the second.
It took just three minutes for the scoreboard to begin to tick over, as the Panthers pounced on a poor offload from Nene Macdonald.
Nathan Cleary and Jahrome Luai marched their side up the field, and then Cleary took the ball to the line to give Dylan Edwards the opportunity to make a half-break and offload to Brent Naden for a try.
It was all the Panther early on, as a second Penrith try followed less than ten minutes later.
This time, Api Koroisau dummied left from the play-the-ball, came back right and pushed the ball to Liam Martin who exploited the huge gap left by Chad Townsend to walk in for an easy score.
It took the Sharks just two minutes to grab a try back, as an attacking play from the scrum found Bryson Goodwin who looked to get through the tackle of Charlie Staines and Naden to dot down.
However, the experienced centre dropped the ball cold over the goal-line under pressure form Dylan Edwards and the score remained 0-12.
In the 20th minute, the Panthers extended their lead once more.
Cleary and Luai combined once more to move the ball left to Stephen Crichton and the big powerful centre raced around the outside of the Sharks defence to dive over in the corner.
Four minutes later, and a fourth try came for the visitors.
Isaah Yeo and Nathan Cleary combined to shift the ball right to Dyland Edwards, whose quick catch and pass gave Charlie Staines all the room in the world to race over to score his first NRL try, on debut.
Just moments later, Staines made a break down the right-wing, and this time, instead of scoring, he provided a pass back on the inside to Edwards who ran 30-metres to score try number five for the Panthers.
Towards the end of the first half, the Sharks began to build pressure of the Panthers, and eventually broke through.
Shaun Johnson took the ball to the line and popped the ball gently to his outside for the onrushing Briton Nikora to collect and slide over.
In the final seconds before the break, Blayke Brailey gave Cronulla as huge boost, as he picked the ball up after a quick play-the-ball from Brandon Hamlin-Uele and burrowed between Luai and Koroisau and then slammed the ball down with authority to score.
HALF-TIME: Cronulla Sharks 12-26 Penrith Panthers
It took five minutes for the Panthers to extend their lead further, as Nathan Cleary’s kick was tapped back by the high flying Bren Naden, to Dylan Edwards who passed the ball onto Staines for his second try.
With 27 minutes left to go in the game, James Tamou was penalised for a ruck infringement, and with the Panthers having conceded too many penalties and set restarts, the prop forward was sent to the sin-bin.
Despite the numerical disadvantage, it didn’t stop the Panthers and Billy Burns came back across the line and stepped past Aaron Woods then stretched over to score.
Just before the score, Woods caught Burns high but the second-rower still managed to finish off the four-pointer.
Jesse Ramien made sure not to let the Panthers run away with the game though. He received the ball on the left-hand edge, and despite five Panthers defenders covering, the stepped off his left foot, and cut inside the defence to score.
Dylan Edwards made a huge break down the middle of the park, and after a poor play-the-ball from the full-back the Panthers somehow won a penalty, after Aaron Woods was penalised for pushing Burns off the ball, and the prop was sent to the sin-bin.
On further review, the call from Ashley Klein was very harsh, but Cleary still added the two points from the boot for a 20-point lead.
In the very next attacking set for Penrith, the lead turned from 20 to 24/6 as Crichton dummied past Sione Katoa and walked in for his second.
Ten minutes of the game were still remaining, as the Sharks scored once again for the 12th of the night in total.
Viliame Kikau made a more attempt to pass the ball off the floor for Crichton and Nene Macdonald intercepted to race 60 metres to score.
With six minutes remaining, the Panthers went over again.
Tyrone May found himself short of options in midfield so looped the ball out to the right-hand edge and right onto the chest of Charlie Staines who slid in for his hat-trick on debut, to much celebration from his teammates and his friends in the corner that he scored.
The Panthers still weren’t finished though and with a minute remaining, Cleary and Edwards combined to give Brent Naden room to get on the outside of Jesse Ramien.
He then offloaded to Staines, who beat Goodwin on the outside to slide over for his fourth try.
FULL-TIME: Cronulla Sharks 24-56 Penrith Panthers
Dugan, Katoa, Goodwin, Ramien, Macdonald, Johnson, Townsend, Woods, Brailey, Hamlin-Uele, Nikora, Graham, Williams
Interchanges: Fifita, Rudolf, Talakai, Hunt
Tries: Nikora, Brailey, Ramien, Macdonald
Goals: Johnson (4/4)
Edwards, Mansour, Crichton, Staines, Naden, Luai, Cleary, Tamou, Koroisau, Fisher-Harris, Kikau, Martin, Yeo
Interchanges: May, Leota, Burns, Leniu
Tries: Naden, Martin, Crichton (2), Staines (4), Edwards, Burns
Goals: Cleary (6/9) Crichton(1/2)
Referee: A. Klein
Touch Judges: T. Smith, G. Badger
Video Referee: B. Norrie
Image Source: @Cronulla_Sharks (twitter)