Three weeks ago Nicho Hynes couldn't seem to put a foot right and the Sharks looked destined to plummet out of the top eight. But on Thursday night he produced another one of his trademark masterclasses to steer his side to a much-needed 32-12 win over the Cowboys.
After three-straight losses to the Warriors, Sea Eagles and Panthers, Hynes was down in the dumps and commentators were starting to question whether his six-year, $7 million deal was starting to way heavily on him. However the halfback has responded brilliantly in the last three weeks, leading his side to convincing wins over the Rabbitohs, Titans and Cowboys.
'ARE YOU SERIOUS': Gorden Tallis and Laurie Daley in fiery TV argument
Many predicted the Sharks would fall out of the top eight and miss the finals altogether, but Thursday night's win sent them back into the top four (albeit temporarily) with just two games remaining in the regular season. Hynes, who became the punching bag for critics during the Sharks' losing streak, had a try, assist, line-break, four tackle breaks and 190 running metres on Thursday night.
"He's the spirit of the team," Cronulla coach Craig Fitzgibbon said of Hynes' performance. "He drove the team, kicked well, defended amazing, got asked plenty of questions and ripped in. He controlled the game plan and he's developed even more as a half, so I was more proud of tonight's performance from him than some other one's he's had."
The reigning Dally M medallist pulled the right strings all evening and it was his kick behind the line for Wade Graham that extended the Sharks' lead to 18-12 at half-time. His brilliant solo try 10 minutes from full-time dashed any semblance of a Cowboys comeback, bouncing off both feet to score and put the nail in North Queensland's coffin.
“For Cronulla it had to be Hynes, he has found some form over the last fortnight and really impressive today,” Greg Alexander said on Fox League. Michael Ennis added: “Playing both sides of the field and looking very dangerous today."
Matty Johns said: “When your most important player is playing with great confidence, is lifting the whole side. That’s what we are seeing with Nicho Hynes… Connor Tracey and Braydon Trindall are taking that much pressure off him.”
Embarrassing tackle attempt from drinkwater,
— frank hernandez (@frankhe30937761) August 17, 2023
— Theres a bigger chance 🤔🦈 (@RandomSharkie) August 17, 2023
A down-on-his-luck Nicho Hynes is still 100,000 times better than Chad. #NRLCowboysSharks
— Rylan Dawson (@Dawso26) August 17, 2023
Nicho hynes bang. Junk time try lesss go
— Amit (@kaleboyy) August 17, 2023
Hynes is like a bulldozer
— ImAMofo (@Picapau316) August 17, 2023
Cowboys look unlikely for finals after loss to Sharks
Cronulla's third win on the trot has seen them temporarily move past Melbourne (32 points) into fourth on points differential. The Storm play the Dragons on Saturday night and will almost certainly move back past the Sharks. But it means Fitzgibbon's men only need one win from their remaining two games to lock up a finals berth.
However it's a different story for the Cowboys. Todd Payten's men entered the game ninth on the ladder and equal on points with eighth-placed South Sydney (28). They must now win their next two away games against the Dolphins and Penrith to have any chance of finishing in the top eight - although other results must also go their way.
"We're coming into this game knowing that we have to win two games to give ourselves a chance to play finals and there is still two games left," Payten said. "Our focus needs to be on this week and then whatever happens after that, we'll attack that as well."
Sign up to our newsletter and score the biggest sport stories of the week.