With somewhat of a rivalry now forming between the two sides, it was another entertaining clash between the Cronulla Sharks and the Melbourne Storm but the result was reversed in the grand final rematch.
Whilst the Sharks may have taken out the 2016 NRL premiership with success in the grand final, it was the Melbourne Storm who edged out a fast-finishing Sharks side this time around to win 18-13.
The win was made all the more impressive in the absence of Cooper Cronk and it was captain Cameron Smith who stood up and made his presence known with a commanding display.
By no means will last night’s win erase the memory of the 2016 grand final loss but it does move the Storm four points clear at the top and gives them some breathing space over a tough Origin period still to come.
It was a fast start by the Melbourne outfit as they raced to a 12-0 lead on the back of tries to Felise Kaufusi and Tim Glasby but the Sharks wrestled back some momentum and eventually gained the ascendancy.
They fought back to firstly tie the scores courtesy of two tries – just one of which was converted – a penalty goal and a field goal by James Maloney to put the Sharks ahead.
Knowing they had to score, the Storm put up a short kick-off and it paid off, as Billy Slater found back-rower Kaufusi who hit the line hard, found the gap and scored his second try of the game to seal the win for the Storm side.
There was a sour note for the Storm, however, with prop Jordan McLean suffering a possible fractured cheekbone.
Despite that, the Storm remains top and they also remain unbeaten away from home in 2017.
Sharks coach Shane Flanagan had a bit to say after the game, particularly in relation to ‘referee Smith.’
“He’s the best player in his position. I watched him closely today and he managed the game perfectly,” said Flanagan.
“He got off the line early…I can complain about it as much as I want during the week, but he just does it very, very well. I wish we had a couple of them!
He’s just a good player at whether you call it flaunting the rules or push the referees or whatever it is, he’s the best at it and he showed it tonight. He had one of those games.”
Flanagan also admitted that the two early tries are probably what cost his side the game.
“We just didn’t get off the blocks tonight and they got two soft tries and in the end, that’s what probably hurt us,” Flanagan said.
“We fought our way to get back in front but then didn’t catch a kick-off and we didn’t adjust from the short kick-off – it was hard to adjust – and they scored a try. It just goes to show how close it is between the two teams.”
Player of the Game:
3. Cameron Smith
2. Felise Kaufusi
- Luke Lewis
Storm 18 (Felise Kaufusi 2, Tim Glasby tries; Cameron Smith 3 goals) def. Sharks 13 (Luke Lewis, Sosaia Feki tries; James Maloney 2 goals; James Maloney field goal) at Southern Cross Group Stadium. Half-time: 12-6. Crowd: 7,912.