The Melbourne Storm have won the 2021 Minor Premiership following a 28-16 victory over the Cronulla Sharks at Cbus Super Stadium.
Needing a win to secure their spot in the finals, the Sharks will now have to wait until Sunday afternoon to learn their fate.
Despite persistent rumours that Craig Bellamy would be resting his star players, Ryan Papenhuyzen, Nicho Hynes, Brandon Smith and Jahrome Hughes all kept their places in the starting lineup.
It was Smith who got the scoring underway, ducking past two defenders on the back of a strong run by Nelson Asofa-Solomona.
The try was the eleventh of the season for the man nicknamed ‘Cheese’.
The Sharks soon hit back with some sweet second-phase play as Jesse Ramien offloaded to Sione Katoa.
The Cronulla winger touched down with a spectacular acrobatic finish in the right-hand corner.
Ryan Papenhuyzen then put Melbourne back in front with his first try since Round 6 before Cronulla once more levelled the scores through Sione Katoa.
Both sides entered the sheds locked up at 12-all.
After the break, the Storm turned up the dial on their attack Marion Seve took just two minutes to retake the lead.
The Storm centre burst out of dummy half and muscled his way past several Sharks defenders.
Harry Grant then exploited a wide gap in the Cronulla defensive line before passing off to an unmarked Ryan Papenhuyzen.
With 11 minutes to play, Papenhuyzen pounced on a deft grabber kick from Jahrome Hughes and the result was all but secured.
Connor Tracey scored a late consolation try for the Sharks, but it could prove pivotal in the race for the top eight.
Josh Hannay’s men will be closely monitoring the Titans’ clash against the Warriors on Sunday afternoon.
If the Titans can win by 12 points or more, they will jump the Sharks and secure the final spot in the postseason.
If not, the Sharks will face either the Roosters or Sea Eagles next weekend.
NRL News Player of the Game:
3 Points – Ryan Papenhuyzen (MEL)
2 Points – Harry Grant (MEL)
1 Point – Will Kennedy (CRO)