It was the same sad story for the Cronulla Sharks tonight; full of courage and commitment but still falling short of a much needed win. This time the Sharks pushing NRL comp leaders the Melbourne Storm all the way to the end.
It must be said, the Cronulla Sharks playing roster isn’t sparkling with talent. With Luke Covell on one wing; crafty, safe, experienced but certainly not the quickest winger in the game – and with a make shift halves combination of the aging Adam Dykes and discarded Brett Seymour trying their hearts out against the might of the Melbourne Storm, most pundits thought this would be a training run for the Melbourne club.
To their credit, the Cronulla Sharks hung in tight all the way. They showed once again that Melbourne are vulnerable, especially on the edges with short passing interchanges and quick play the balls.
Referee Paul Simpkins continues to struggle for form; making several poor calls and really not looking to have control of the rucks for several periods in the match.
The Storm were certainly still a little nervous after this loss last week; however it’s hard to gauge their form as the talented Cameron Smith was rested this week and his arsenal is unquestioned. Steve Turner was also rested, the speedy outside man showed how much value he adds to the Storm – his nimble blind side and broken play runs were sorely missed.
Matt Geyer’s return helped the Storm somewhat, his calm and experienced hand in attack helped Melbourne score some opportunist tries off the back of penalties and back to back sets. The Melbourne Storm forwards weren’t totally dominating tonight, maybe their lack of early possession tired them out – but they did lack punch and presence around the ruck.
Both sides struggled with discipline – for the Sharks, Ben Ross was regularly pulled up for infringements as was Jeremy Smith for the Storm – Smith in a firey mood and giving regular facials to the opposition. Matt King was in a similar frame of mind, grappling several times and getting frustrated at the lack of opportunities.
Cronulla are certainly gone for 2007 – but as the Storm move towards the minor premiership and the NRL Top 8 Finals; many opposition teams will be quietly confident when they take on Melbourne in the finals.
Playing a possession based style of football (limited second phase, 2 passes wide) and working the ball to the edges early against Melbourne might bring rewards. Combined with a smart kicking game to find touch (slow their ball return down), or at worst pin Billy Slater in the corner can force the Storm to return with one out plays from dummy half – allowing opposition defences to ‘jam in’ and compress centre field. The frustration in Melbourne has been evident the last two weeks – and their usually perfect discipline level goes out the window; providing opposition teams with even more bullets.
So while it might have been groundhog day for the Cronulla Sharks tonight, with yet another loss by less than 6 points – the Melbourne Storm could be falling into a ground hog day of their own; something they will want to shake off pretty quickly with only 4 weeks left of regular season.