Waratahs coach Daryl Gibson admits their season is at a "critical juncture" after ill-discipline unravelled their hopes of a win in a 23-15 loss to the Sharks.
A red and a yellow card in the space of five minutes put the Waratahs a man down for 35 minutes of the clash and down to just 13 men for 10 minutes in a disastrous series of events for NSW in front of 10,605 at Bankwest Stadium.
The result, their first loss to the Sharks in Sydney since 2000 - leaves them four points adrift of the Rebels in the Australian conference and at risk of slipping down the order with the Brumbies still to play the Jaguares this weekend.
Away matches against the Bulls and the Lions loom and Gibson was open about the precarious nature of their season with seven rounds to go.
"It's certainly at a critical juncture," he said.
"The season's thrown a lot at us and it's going to require us to show a great deal of resilience. We've got a two-week tour now and it's very clear what we need to do and get from that tour. That's very clear."
It's not just their win-loss ratio that is a concern - the Waratahs are sweating on a number of injuries out of the match and a possible suspension for Jed Holloway, who was red-carded.
Holloway’s night ended in just the 46th minute with the second rower sent off for an elbow to the head of Sharks prop Thomas du Toit.
The second rowe threw his elbow back in du Toit’s direction, connecting with his head, after the tighthead grabbed the back of the Waratah's jersey.
With the scores 10-all at the time, Gibson admitted the send-off was a game changer for the Waratahs.
"That was the critical moment for the game - 45 minutes in, 10-all and fairly even to that point," he said.
"It changed the nature of the game.
"A red card. It's very clear in the law - a strike to the head with a forearm or elbow. The sanction's a red card or a yellow, so no grumbling about that.
"It is disappointing. Obviously those moments proved costly in the end."
Holloway's card complicates the coming weeks for the Waratahs as well with the second rower likely to face a suspension for the incident and NSW flying out to South Africa on Sunday morning.
SANZAAR judicial hearings usually do not take place until Monday, so the Waratahs will not know the full status for Holloway until they are well entrenched in Africa.
Du Toit was carded as well, for instigating the incident, but Holloway’s retaliation was viewed as more severe by Berry.
Five minutes later, flanker Jack Dempsey was in the bin for a lifting tackle on Sharks winger Makazole Mapimpi.
While two missed penalties from rookie Sharks flyhalf Curwin Bosch kept the pressure off initially Sharks centre Andre Esterhuizen, though crashed through two minutes into Dempsey’s binning to take the lead for the first time.
They never relinquished that lead, bullying the Waratahs with their advantage and their size to gain their first win in Sydney since 2000.
It was a spate of adversity that simply proved too much for the Waratahs to overcome in a game that had already proven a physically draining affair.
Skipper MIchael Hooper said their approach had been to try and "minimise the damage" after the cards but ultimately they played too much to the Sharks' strengths.
"You just go into 'How can we try and ride this? - firstly that yellow card out and then how can we deal with being 13 men for 10 minutes and then another 25 minutes with 14 men on the field," he said.
"How can we minimise the damage so to speak. We just let them get a little bit too far out there to pull it back in the end."
Both sides looked for territory and the Sharks’ rookie halves combination of Cameron Wright and Bosch were the more effective as the night unfolded but it was the pack that gave the Waratahs the most headaches, especially in the final half hour.
NSW 10 Bernard Foley had the first points of the night in the seventh minute, giving the Waratahs some reward for their sustained pressure in the opening exchanges.
A strong scrum gave the Sharks some front foot ball and four phases later, no. 8 Daniel Du Preez ahd muscled his way over the line.
The Waratahs pack tried to work their way forward but some panicked offloads put the ball back in the Sharks’ path and the Durban side won a pivotal penalty at the breakdown to force an attacking scrum.
NSW didn’t shy away from the challenge in the pack, though, and managed to release the pressure valve with a key penalty out of that scrum.
Things looked ominous when Jean-Luc du Preez pinched a turnover deep in the Waratahs’ attack but an outside pass landed in touch, letting NSW off the hook again.
Winger Cam Clark provided a defensive benchmark for his teammates in the 22nd minute with a bone-crunching hit on Mapimpi.
His left wing counterpart Curtis Rona helped provide the next highlight, pouncing on a defensive overlap and passing inside to speedy halfback Jake Gordon for NSW’s first try of the night.
A Sekope Kepu high tackle gave Bosch the first of three three-pointers of the night to even up the scores just shy of the half-hour mark.
That was where they stayed until Esterhuizen broke the deadlock in the 53rd minute and gave the Sharks their first lead of the night.
Rona was the casualty with Dempsey and Holloway off the field, with Tom Staniforth replacing the winger to replenish their forward stocks.
The exhaustion of the personnel deficit began to show despite tireless shifts from skipper Michael Hooper, who finished with 16 tackles, no. 8 Michael Wells (12 tackles) and Rob Simmons (12 tackles).
A 53-metre Bosch penalty turned the screws in with just over 10 minutes to go and another for his tally really put it out of the Waratahs' reach.
Foley managed to clinch a consolation try but missed a conversion that would have given the Waratahs a valuable losing bonus point.
The Waratahs head to South Africa on Sunday for matches against the Bulls in Pretoria and the Lions in Johannesburg while the Sharks head to New Zealand.
Tries: Gordon, Foley
Tries: D Du Preez, Esterhuizen
Cons: Bosch 2
Pens: Bosch 3