Shaun Johnson overcame an alleged bite by Gold Coast forward Kevin Proctor and a pre-match stomach complaint to steer Cronulla to 30-18 triumph before suffering a match-ending groin injury in an eventful Saturday at Netstrata Jubilee Stadium for the star playmaker.
Proctor became the first player in premiership history sent from the field for biting and he may have played his last match for the Titans after being dismissed by referee Henry Perenara in the 56th minute of his milestone 250th NRL match.
The biting incident occurred after Johnson tackled Proctor, who told Perenara the forearm of his New Zealand team-mate had been in his mouth.
Proctor angrily called Johnson a sook and accused the halfback of choking him as the Bunker reviewed the incident before advising Perenara to give the Titan his marching orders.
Johnson limped from the field soon after with a groin injury but not before spearheading the Sharks to their seventh win in nine matches and he remains the NRL leader for try assists with 20 – five ahead of Sydney Roosters five-eighth Luke Keary.
Match: Sharks v Titans
Round 14 -
Venue: Netstrata Jubilee Stadium, Sydney
The last player suspended for biting was former Canterbury prop James Graham, who received 12 matches for chomping on the ear of Melbourne fullback Billy Slater in the 2012 grand final.
Proctor is expected to be referred directly to the judiciary.
"You can't defend it. It's certainly out of character," Titans head of culture Mal Meninga told Fox Sports after the match.
"He is the leader of the football team, he needs to lead by example."
Proctor and Johnson, former teammates with the Kiwis, spoke with each other on the sidelines after full-time and appeared to resolve their differences.
Proctor sent off in game 250 for alleged bite
Afterwards, Johnson told Fox Sports: “Nothing happened, let’s just leave it at that. We were both heated in the middle of the game.
"I was a bit high on him. Whatever happened, happened and we are still mates.”
Proctor looked distraught in the sheds.
The Titans picked up where they left off in last weekend’s 30-10 defeat of North Queensland when centre Brian Kelly made an early break before winger Corey Thompson strolled over in the corner for a sixth minute try from an Ash Taylor cut-out pass.
However, Josh Dugan turned momentum Cronulla’s way with a long run and he was rewarded with a 20th minute try after prop Aaron Woods performed a run-around with Scott Sorensen before passing to Wade Graham who quickly shifted the ball to the former Kangaroos centre.
A woozy looking Johnson required treatment from Sharks trainer Mark Noakes before attempting the sideline conversion but he made no mistake and levelled the scores at 6-6.
Classic Johnson adds another try assist to his tally
Despite appearing to still be in some discomfort, Johnson weaved his magic with a stepping, jinking run past Proctor and three other Gold Coast defenders before putting forward Siosifa Talakai over for Cronulla’s second try in the 25th minute.
Again Johnson converted from out wide to put the home team ahead 12-6 but a one-on-one strip by Proctor on Talakai three minutes before halftime gave the Titans a chance to level and former Test prop Jarrod Wallace charged over for a try just before the interval.
That eased the pain of Titans lock Jai Arrow leaving the field in 37th minute with an AC joint injury.
Wallace barges over to get the Titans level
However, the second half was one Gold Coast coach Justin Holbrook would prefer to forget as Kelly stepped over the dead-ball line while fielding the kick-off to re-start proceedings and centre Dale Copley came from the field with a pectoral muscle injury in the 47th minute.
Proctor bombed a try before receiving his marching orders in the 56th minute and Sharks winger Sione Katoa scored his 13th try of the season in the ensuing set of tackles after diving to field a Johnson kick into the Titans in-goal.
Johnson puts it on a platter for Katoa
With Gold Coast down to 12 men, Cronulla took full advantage and tries to captain Graham and Scott Sorensen in the 59th and 62nd minutes quickly saw the score blow out to 30-12 before Johnson hobbled to the sideline in the 64th minute.
Both teams finished the game with casualties, Josh Dugan (knee) leaving the field before full-time while Titans centre Dale Copley also failed to play out the 80 minutes.
Titans back-rower Keegan Hipgrave powered over for a try with six minutes remaining but that's as close as they got.