James Maloney snatched victory with the boot after Valentine Holmes scored a stunning solo try as Cronulla Sharks extended their winning run to 10 NRL matches with a tense 13-10 triumph over North Queensland Cowboys on Monday.
The Sharks headed into the Sunshine State showdown brimming with confidence after reeling off nine wins in a row and came from behind at Southern Cross Group Stadium to move level on points with leaders Melbourne Storm.
Reigning Premiers the Cowboys hammered Cronulla to reach the preliminary final last year and looked on course for another victory when Antonio Winterstein went over in the corner after only five minutes.
Johnathan Thurston converted and added a penalty, but the Sharks hit back when Holmes scampered away for a magnificent 90-metre intercept try before Maloney nailed the conversion and also added a penalty to ensure the rivals were locked at 8-8 at half-time.
Another Maloney penalty put Shane Flanagan's men in front for the first time and he won it with a drop-goal six minutes from time followed by another success from the tee after Thurston had made it 10-10 with less than quarter of an hour remaining.
Canterbury Bulldogs are just two points behind third-placed North Queensland after scoring three tries in each half to beat St George Illawarra Dragons 34-16 at ANZ Stadium.
Will Hopoate scored a bizarre second-half try, coasting over after Tony Williams had accidently passed the ball forward to himself before passing to the full-back to leave the Dragons bemused.
Referee Jared Maxell informed Dragons captain Gareth Widdop there was "no deliberate push forward" and there was further misery for the hosts when Josh Reynolds added to tries from Sam Perrett, Michael Lichaa, Moses Mbye and Curtis Rona.