Sharks 12 Storm 10
Todd Carney of the Sharks. Photo: Getty Images
Even through their six-match winning streak, which was abruptly ended by South Sydney last week, Cronulla were always waiting for this one to really prove a point.
Isaac Gordon of the Sharks scores a try. Photo: Getty Images
That they won yesterday against the best, without their own best in skipper Paul Gallen, did just that. And in depriving Melbourne - previously unbeaten - of any points of their own in the second half, they did so in remarkable style. Actually, it wasn't anything close to stylish, but it had more than enough substance.
The Sharks wanted to win, though, not just to prove a point to themselves, but to everyone else who might have felt that their resurgence was merely a temporary one.
''Finally, I think a lot of people will stand up and take a bit of notice,'' Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan said. ''We can play football, and we are a good team.''
Matt Duffie of the Storm scores in the corner. Photo: Getty Images
Right now, the Sharks sit in third spot, behind Melbourne and Brisbane. But yesterday, they were still above the Storm in so many ways, desire and drive being the important ones. The Sharks, traditionally so maligned, have now beaten premiers Manly and the premiers-elect.
''I thought it was a massive opportunity for us,'' Flanagan said. ''As a club, we still haven't got a major sponsor, and hopefully someone sees that we have got a good football team here. We need that support.
''I spoke to the players about … opportunities don't come too often. We've got a good football team and we need to capitalise on that.''
Sharks weather the Storm
Storms Ryan Hoffman. Photo: Steve Christo
This was always going to be the Sharks' real test. Every one of the six wins in a row that the Sharks managed were always prefaced by the realisation that a clash with the Storm was around the corner. If this Cronulla side is to be a premiership-winning one, they will have to beat the best. They did so by being the best; they played not only to their own strengths but to Melbourne's.
''We just tried to play Melbourne at what they're good at,'' Flanagan said. ''They are patient, well-drilled, and they've got structures in place in offence and defence. We tried to do that as best we could, match them in those areas and I think we did that, especially defensively. We weren't that good in attack, to be fair, but outstanding in defence.''
Melbourne had all their key personnel but they were still far from their best, which came from a combination of their own sloppiness and the Sharks' own determination. Even without Gallen, the Sharks scrapped on their own try line and at the other end they had five-eighth Todd Carney to exploit the Storm's failings.
For much of the contest, the Storm appeared like they were about to bust loose, scoring in the 13th minute, when returning winger Isaac Gordon allowed a Cooper Cronk bomb to bounce, allowing Dane Nielsen to score. But the Sharks hit back swiftly, through Gordon, after good lead-up work by fullback Matthew Wright.
The Storm again looked to flex their attacking muscle when a quick spread left gave winger Matt Duffie a try. Yet the Sharks' resilience was always impressive.
Following Storm fullback Billy Slater's 55th-minute sin-binning, after he had shouldered halfback Jeff Robson, Melbourne held firm. In what was a critical period of the match, the Sharks lost possession several times, and when they did look like scoring, through winger John Williams, the Melbourne defence did the job in the fullback's absence. The Sharks could have become disheartened when Slater strode back onto the field, but they were clearly searching for a higher cause. One they found; recognition.
CRONULLA 12 (I Gordon, J Smith tries; T Carney 2 goals) bt MELBOURNE 10 (M Duffie, D Nielsen tries; C Smith goal) at Toyota Stadium. Referees: Jason Robinson, Ben Cummins. Crowd: 14,595.