Cronulla's quest for a maiden premiership will begin with a difficult trip to Canberra this week after they botched a perfect opportunity to grab a home final, losing 36-22 to North Queensland yesterday.
The Raiders' 42-22 win against the Warriors earlier in the day meant the Sharks were aware at halftime they had to beat the Cowboys to ensure they play the Green Machine in Sydney on Sunday.
Neil Henry's Cowboys knew before the game they would finish fifth and host a home final in Townsville regardless of the result, but still proved to be too strong for a Sharks side who were strangely lacklustre in front of their home fans.
Despite speculation to the contrary, Henry opted against resting Johnathan Thurston and Matt Bowen, but he did give representative prop Matt Scott a spell ahead of Saturday's elimination final against Brisbane.
Thurston was hardly operating on full throttle, kicking the ball out on the full three times, but still had enough of an influence on the game, kicking six goals as his side chalked up a fourth successive win.
The Sharks may also be without Ben Pomeroy for the trip to the nation's capital after the centre was placed on report for a shoulder charge to the head of Thurston late in the game.
Pomeroy is almost certain to be referred straight to the NRL judiciary on Wednesday under the new guidelines imposed by the ARLC last Thursday.
FINALS - WEEK ONE
Canterbury v Manly, ANZ Stadium, 9.45pm.
Melbourne v Souths, AAMI Stadium, 7.45pm.
North Queensland v Brisbane Broncos, Dairy Farmers Stadium, 9.45pm.
Canberra v Cronulla, Canberra Stadium, 6pm.
The loser between Canterbury and Manly will meet the winner of North Queensland and Brisbane at home next week. The loser between Melbourne and Souths will meet the winner of Canberra and Cronulla, also at home. The winners of the qualifying finals advance straight to a home preliminary final on the weekend of September 21-22.