The Cronulla Sharks have done what few teams have managed to do in the past 18 months – travel to Olympic Park Melbourne and beat the Storm in their home patch. Cronulla took down their trade mark gritty defence based Rugby League and frustrated the Storm into submission, the match boiling over with 10 minutes to go – Ben Ross and Brett White sent from the field after some foul play.
Cronulla have certainly refined their trench warfare style game and were at their rock solid best today, not scoring a lot of points but proving committed and eager in the defence line. The Storm rarely troubled them through the hands when they went wide and it was probably only kicks that made things difficult for the Sharks at the back.
Knocked unconscious last week by Josh Perry, Sharks prop Ben Ross took a cheap shot at Storm halfback Cooper Cronk in the 67th minute, evoking an immediate reaction from rival prop Brett White who stepped in and bludgeoned Ross to a pulp.
Looking back to the game and it started at a frenetic pace yet slowed to a canter just after halftime, a trend that is appearing across the board with day games so far this season.
The Sharks opened up a 14-point lead after just 11 minutes with David Simmons, the elusive Brett Kearney and Paul Gallen all finding their way to the line through a variety of means. This was partly due to a glut of possession which seemed to catch the Storm off-guard and their defence was left wanting.
Poor kicking by the usually reliable Luke Covell meant the game was still within reach for the Storm and couldnâ€™t offer the Sharks a buffer later in the game.
Melbourne hit straight back though and trailed by only two points after 20 minutes thanks to tries from the crafty Russell Aitken and White, who would later come to the rescue of Cronk.
The middle 30 minutes or so saw the game slow down â€“ an issue possibly brought about by the new restricted interchange laws.
The excitement began to build again around the 60th minute with lots of niggle creeping in and reached a peak when young gun Israel Folau scored in the 67th minute, with referee Tony Archer going upstairs for clarification of the onside and grounding.
Ross was undoubtedly in the wrong, cocking an elbow and forearm at Cronk as the Melbourne halfback kicked across field for Folau. To his credit, Ross did try to help Cronk up but as Storm players gathered around Ross they appeared to hold him to the mercy of White, who delivered one straight to the jaw and got another away that appeared largely ineffectual.
The incident wonâ€™t help Ross at all. He was knocked out last week and has had a string of unfortunate incidents in the game including a recent knee reconstruction and his famous stoush with Gorden Tallis.
For the record, Tallis belted the stuffing out of him and things havenâ€™t quite gone to plan since for the former Maroon.
The remaining 13 minutes of the game saw both sides squander scoring opportunities before Cronulla halfback Brett Kimmorley, who had himself committed several errors on the day, stole the game with a 79th minute field goal from 30 metres out.
And what better man to do it considering Kimmorley history at the ground…
Cronulla are now the early season dark horses after knocking off Manly and Melbourne away from home â€“ the two hardest road trips in the NRL. They face the Titans next week up on the Gold Coast with their opponents still to face St George Illawarra tomorrow night.
Melbourne will travel to Sydney next weekend to play the Roosters, the last team to defeat the Storm until today.
Round 2 – Full Time :: March 23rd, 2008 3:00pm
Cronulla 17 – Simmons, Kearney, Gallen Tries, Covell 2/5, Kimmorley 1 FG
Storm 16 – Aitken, White, Folau Tries, Smith 2/5
Venue: Olympic Park, Melbourne
Referee: Tony Archer