Sharks bolt into NRL title contention

Steve Zemek
Cronulla have made a big statement with their upset defeat of NRL premiers Melbourne

All of a sudden, the NRL is a four-horse race.

Cronulla have bolted into title contention after winning a 17-14 arm wrestle with arch-rivals Melbourne at AAMI Park on Sunday.

On the same day the Wests Tigers kept their top eight hopes alive after holding off Canberra, the Sharks made a big statement with their upset of the premiers, who blew a chance to move into top spot.

After shaky losses against Manly and Brisbane, the Sharks appeared to be fading with the finals in sight.

The Sydney Roosters, South Sydney and Storm were thought to be the only sides capable of winning the competition heading into the round.

The Roosters moved into first with an 18-14 win over the Rabbitohs on Friday but the Sharks proved they're just as capable of challenging them.

"It's massive, the self-belief for the players that they can play against quality sides likes the Storm," Sharks coach Shane Flanagan said.

"We just need to find some form at this tail end of the year. We've been pretty patchy over the whole year.

"Hopefully we're starting to get it right at the right end of the year. Time will tell but it's a good start."

Earlier on Sunday, the Tigers not only shrugged off a week of uncertainty about coach Ivan Cleary but moved to within two points of Brisbane after holding off the Raiders 22-20.

Following their loss to North Queensland on Thursday night, the Broncos are far from assured of a finals berth, with tough games against the Rabbitohs and Roosters in the next two weeks.

The Tigers now have a blockbuster showdown with St George Illawarra, who have lost five of their past six, at Leichhardt Oval on Saturday.

Should the Tigers sneak into the eight, it raises the prospect of a blockbuster finals showdown against Penrith, who during the week failed in their bid to lure Tigers coach Ivan Cleary to the foot of the mountains next year.

Cleary refused to address his future after the game but praised his side's ability to win with their season on the line.

"At the end there it was pretty obvious they were determined not to let that one go under enormous pressure," Cleary said.

"It shows what it meant to them. It sets up a nice meeting against the Dragons next week."

On Saturday, St George Illawarra's season was put on life support after copping a 40-4 thrashing from Parramatta, who moved out of last position.

Manly moved out of the wooden-spoon danger zone as Daly Cherry-Evans pulled the strings in their 18-6 win over Canterbury.

Penrith halfback Nathan Cleary missed a penalty goal to send the game into golden point before slotting a clutch field goal to complete a 17-16 comeback win over Gold Coast.

On Friday, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck inspired the Warriors to a 20-4 win over Newcastle to keep their top-four hopes alive.

As he has done so often in the past three years, Johnathan Thurston cruelled the Broncos when he grubbered for Coen Hess to seal the Cowboys' 34-30 win.