The Kings were plucky and certainly had their chances to win the game, but perhaps lacked the belief to get themselves over the line. When they did keep the ball in hand, they provided a stern test for the Sharks defence, which they often failed to handle, missing numerous tackles.
Fullback Joe Pietersen kicked a sixth-minute penalty to put the Sharks on the scoreboard first, opposite number Scott van Breda having earlier missed a kick that would have given that honour to the EP Kings.
The first try, however, went to the Kings as flyhalf George Whitehead scythed through on a super run that rounded off a good period of attack by the visitors, featuring both bright backline play and some strong drives by the forwards.
The Sharks struck back almost immediately, however, to reclaim the lead (8-5) as wing Andre Esterhuizen raced up and leapt high to out-jump Van Breda to claim a pinpoint crosskick from flyhalf Lionel Cronje and score the home side’s first try.
The Sharks then seemed to have taken a firm hold on the match as they added a second try in three minutes, Cronje scooting over from an inside-ball from Pietersen, after the home side had gone wide from turnover ball. Inside centre Heimar Williams played an important role in the try with his strong, straight run, as did lock Marco Wentzel with his linking play.
Pietersen kicked a 25th-minute penalty to give the Sharks a comfortable 18-5 lead, but by the break there was a sense of solemnity around Kings Park as the Kings fought their way back into the match against a 14-man home side.
Outstanding eighthman Tim Agaba sparked the rally by the Kings, and it was his lovely break from a free kick that gave the visitors field position and led to the yellow card for eighthman Philip van der Walt, who caught him from behind as he headed for the tryline, but then had to slow the ball down illegally in the tackle. Eastern Province then took the five-metre scrum and Agaba burst off the base, around a sluggish Jean Deysel, to score.
After the break, the poor Sharks defence continued to grant the Kings too much headway with ball in hand and, after centre Tim Whitehead had burst through two tackles and Agaba put in another brilliant run, lock Steven Sykes powered through several defenders to score, George Whitehead’s conversion narrowing the gap to 17-18.
Four minutes later, Agaba put in two more superb runs, the television commentators quite rightly awarding him the man of the match award, to take the Kings to within metres of the tryline, scrumhalf Enrico Acker then nipping over from a ruck to give the visitors the lead.
George Whitehead missed the conversion that would have given Eastern Province a six-point lead, but there was some solace for him in that he had cut back to split the defence in between Agaba’s two great runs, playing a key role in the try.
The Sharks went back on the attack and, seven minutes later, they earned a scrum penalty, which they kicked to touch. Flank Daniel du Preez came away with the 55th-minute try, the rolling maul providing him with the platform to cross the line.
Another Kings attack saw Deysel penalised for playing the ball in the tackle and on the ground, George Whitehead kicking the penalty to regain a 25-23 lead.
Sadly for the Kings, they were the last points to reward a top-class effort for them as they fell victim to a brilliant match-winning try by replacement wing Paul Jordaan, after Pietersen had regained a one-point lead for the KwaZulu-Natalians with a penalty.
Jordaan has had a torrid time with injury in the last couple of years, but he made a spectacular return to top-level rugby as he went on a dazzling run down the left, going inside and out to beat a trio of defenders and score, all off a retreating scrum.
Pietersen nailed a vital conversion from the touchline to give the Sharks a buffer of eight points (33-25) and, even though wing Odwa Ndungane was given his marching orders for an aerial challenge that was deemed illegal, the embattled home side held on for their first victory in the competition.
But they will have far tougher challenges, especially when they have to travel, and they have much work to do in terms of attending to the basics, like defence.
Sharks – Tries: Andre Esterhuizen, Lionel Cronje, Daniel du Preez, Paul Jordaan. Conversions: Joe Pietersen (2). Penalties: Pietersen (3).
EP Kings – Tries: George Whitehead, Tim Agaba, Steven Sykes, Enrico Acker. Conversion: Whitehead. Penalty: Whitehead.