Ricky Leutele's late try and a magnificent conversion from James Maloney gave Cronulla Sharks a dramatic 20-18 victory at Canterbury Bulldogs which put them back on top of the NRL ladder on Monday.

The Sharks were on the brink of their first defeat since March with just a couple of minutes remaining at ANZ Stadium, but centre Leutele came up with a great finish in the corner and Maloney's kick went in off the post to snatch a ninth consecutive win.

Canterbury had won eight of their previous 10 games against the Sharks and looked set to see them off once again when converted tries from Josh Reynolds and Michael Lichaa put them 12-0 up midway through the first half.

Shane Flanagan's side cut the gap to two points courtesy of tries from Chad Townsend and Valentine Holmes, with Maloney only able to convert one of the two scores.

Cronulla would have been in front if Ben Barba had not dropped the ball when over the try line against his former club and that gaffe looked set to be costly when Sam Kasiano forced his way over, with Kerrod Holland slotting over a third conversion.

The visitors came roaring back after the break, though, with Barba making amends for his blunder by taking a pass from Wade Graham and racing away for a try with 56 minutes played to make it 18-14.

And there was a late twist, as replacement Leutele touched down in the corner with time running out and Maloney held his nerve to add the extras off the near post from out on the left to move his side above Melbourne Storm at the summit.