Sharks stun hot-headed Waratahs
Waratahs 15 Sharks 23
Update: Durban's Sharks have scored their first victory in Sydney in 19 years, pulling off an upset over a hot-headed Waratahs side that had two players carded.
Not only did NSW miss the chance to top the Australian conference, they've now lost four of their past six games and have a tough South African tour ahead.
If the Tahs miss the finals in 2019, they'll look back at this result - the first Super Rugby match at Parramatta's new BankWest Stadium, played in front of 10,605 fans - as the game that broke their hopes.
The Sharks hadn't won in Sydney since 2000.
Dumb play and ill discipline cost the Tahs dearly.
In a madcap five minutes at the start of the second half three players were carded, changing the complexion of the match that had been locked 10-all at the time.
NSW lock Jed Holloway became the first Tah sent off this season, after punching prop Thomas du Toit with the back of his arm in the 47th minute.
Du Toit, who had been holding Holloway at a ruck, fell theatrically and lay on the floor long enough for referee Nic Berry to ask for replays on the big screen.
Holloway's strike was blatant, and Berry showed him a red card, while punishing du Toit with a yellow for holding him off the ball.
Then NSW backrower Jack Dempsey was sin-binned for a dangerous lifting tackle on Sharks winger Sbusiso Nkosi in the 51st minute.
Two minutes later Sharks centre Andre Esterhuizen scored his side's second try, giving the visitors a 17-10 lead.
Between the 57th-61st minutes, NSW were defending 15 players with just 13 of their own but did not concede a points.
However, two scrum penalties conceded by NSW in the 68th and 72nd minutes allowed Sharks five-eighth Curwin Bosch to kick six additional points for a 23-10 lead. Game over.
Bernard Foley scored a try after the full-time siren but his missed conversion denied NSW a losing bonus point.
NSW coach Daryl Gibson could only shake his head at Holloway's brain snap and had no qualms with the send-off.
"That was the critical moment in the game, 45 minutes in, 10-all, fairly even to that point, it changed the nature of the game," Gibson said.
"Red card, it's very clear the law, strike to the head with the forearm or elbow, the sanction is a red card or yellow so no grumbles about that.
"It is disappointing. Those moments proved costly in the end, and of course the yellow, getting down to 13 makes winning rugby more difficult."
Asked if he could take any positives whatsoever from the performance, Gibson thought for several seconds and could not, but was sure he'd find some when reviewing the tape.
Gibson didn't sugarcoat the precarious situation his side now finds itself.
"We're certainly at a critical juncture, the season is throwing a lot at us and it's going to require us to show a great deal of resilience," he said.
"We go on a two-week tour now and it's very clear what we need to get out that tour."
With games in Pretoria and Johannesburg to come in the next fortnight, the tour would have presented an ideal chance for coach Daryl Gibson to rest some of his key Wallabies.
Skipper Michael Hooper, lock Rob Simmons, prop Sekope Kepu and five-eighth Foley still have games to miss under the Wallabies' rest policy.
But now these two tour matches take on a whole new level of importance, given how far the Tahs may have slipped on the ladder after this round has finished.
It will leave Gibson to make some agonising decisions as his finals hopes fade.
HUNT IS ON
In a remarkably short space of time Karmichael Hunt has become the crucial cog in the Waratahs' backline.
His all-round game is as good as any other centre in the country.
Hunt played first receiver often against the Sharks, freeing Bernard Foley to orchestrate wider attacking plays.
When it was required, Hunt took up the crash balls in midfield, while at other times he was throwing short balls, cut-out passes, and putting grubbers behind the defence.
Without the ball, he was in usual immovable form in the defensive line.
Hunt has not been involved in any Wallaby camps this year, and he is far from displacing Samu Kerevi as the premier No.12 in the country.
But if he continues to improve at such a rapid rate, and build his partnership with Foley, he will come into the World Cup conversation soon enough.
SHARKS 23 (Daniel du Preez, Andre Esterhuizen tries Curwin Bosch 2 cons 3 pens) NSW WARATAHS 15 (Bernard Foley, Jake Gordon tries Foley con pen) at Bankwest Stadium. Referee: Nic Berry.