Premier coach Paul Green has lauded Cronulla as "the real deal" after the Sharks set the physical benchmark in their quest for a fairytale maiden NRL title in their milestone 50th season.
Green admits the Sharks outmuscled his defending champion North Queensland outfit in Monday night's 13-10 triumph and will take a power of stopping in 2016 after joining Melbourne six points clear at the head of the table.
"We've played Melbourne and Brisbane this year so far and they're definitely up there with those teams," Green said on Fox Sports' NRL 360.
"I talk about Melbourne and Brisbane and the Sharks, they've all got their own way of playing, but we saw how physical that the Sharks can be on Monday night.
"They did a great job, particularly in that second half, of keeping us in our half and were very physical through the forwards.
"Very rarely I could say that we're not at least in the battle in the forward pack, but I think they probably got on top of us there.
"To keep in the game against that team, I was really pleased with, but they're definitely the real deal.
Despite his glowing praise, Green warned the Sharks - who have a bye this weekend before resuming against the Warriors in search of a club-record-equalling 11th straight win - that "you're only as good as your last game".
"It's very difficult to stay up for the length of the NRL season," he said.
"It's such a long, hard season, both physically, mentally and emotionally as well.
"Then you throw in an Origin campaign in the middle of it as well."
The Sharks have three players lining up in Origin II next week and could well be without a fourth if Wade Graham is called up again after being suspended for game two on Wednesday night.
The Cowboys are even more heavily represented, but Green is confident his third-placed side are primed for a strong title defence and won't hit their straps until after the interstate series is finished.
"We're up and down, but I certainly don't think we've played our best footy yet and it's about where you finish, not where you start."