James Maloney inspired Cronulla Sharks to a resounding 44-12 victory over his former club Sydney Roosters, while Manly Sea Eagles and North Queensland Cowboys also claimed NRL wins on Saturday.
Coach Shane Flanagan felt Maloney was among the Sharks players who were distracted by the prospect of playing in a State of Origin decider later this month when the defending premiers were beaten by Manly last weekend.
Five-eighth Maloney responded with a man-of-the-match display at Central Coast Stadium, scoring 16 points with the boot and tormenting the Roosters to leave the Sharks four points behind leaders Melbourne Storm in second spot.
The Roosters had beaten Melbourne last weekend to extend their winning run to three matches, but Jack Bird, Valentine Holmes and Sosaia Feki scored first-half tries as Cronulla took a 20-12 lead at the break.
Converted tries from Daniel Tupou and Ryan Matterson ensured the home side were in touch, but they failed to score in a one-sided second half and slip to fourth in the ladder.
Ricky Leutele claimed a double either side of four-pointers from Gerard Beale and Luke Lewis, while Maloney was reliable from the tee as the Sharks made a big statement.
Manly occupy third spot after coming from 16-0 down midway through the first half to beat New Zealand Warriors 26-22.
Tom Trbojevic scored a pair of tries, while Brian Kelly, Akuila Uate and Dylan Walker also went over. Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad scored a try in each half, but the Warriors were unable to avoid defeat.
Michael Morgan was the star of the show for the Cowboys, scoring a try and laying on scores for debutant Te Maire Martin and Antonio Winterstein in a 31-18 success over Canberra Raiders.