Melbourne proved far too classy to overcome the continued threat of the in-form Cronulla, earning an impressive 34-18 victory.
In what was marked to be a potential match of the round, Melbourne and Cronulla both looked to improve on their promising starts to the season.
An interesting game beckoned, with Nicho Hynes and Dale Finucane returning to Aami Park for the first time since changing clubs, while questions over the future of Melbourne five-eighth Cameron Munster remained.
The opening points were found by the Sharks in the tenth minute, through a penalty goal after Hynes was hit late after a pass by Felise Kaufusi, causing the Storm forward to be placed on report.
Cronulla’s forward pack were brave early, taking it right up to the Storm through the middle of their defence on multiple occasions to build consecutive strong sets, however, had no points to show for it.
Dale Finucane’s eighth minute HIA unfortunately resulted in his return to Melbourne being cut very short after suffering a heavy knock in an attempt to tackle Nelson Asofa-Solomona.
After a solid ten minutes of resistance from the Storm, they opened their account through a cut out ball from Munster that allowed Nick Meaney to send Justin Olam steaming over the line on his inside.
Ryan Papenhuyzen slotted the tricky conversion from the sidelines to give his side the edge 6-2.
Much against the grain, an early kick from Hynes saw the Sharks go coast-to-coast and score through some slick left edge passing from Matt Moylan and William Kennedy to send Siosifa Talakai in for Cronulla’s first try.
A perfect Hynes conversion wrestled the match back into the Sharks favour, with an 8-6 lead ten minutes out from half time.
Storm fans found their hearts in their mouths when their star fullback was swung around in a hip drop tackle from Cameron McInnes appeared to twist Papenhuyzen’s ankle on an angle which appeared painful to watch.
A crafty Munster entered his way into the game with multiple dummy’s to make the Cronulla defence look silly and cross the line to gift his side the lead again.
Storm fans applauded in joy when Papenhuyzen took the tee without looking overly sore and converted to lead 12-8 which would be the half time scoreline.
Melbourne continued on with their momentum to start the second half, scoring through Olam for a double only minutes in on the back of some more Munster magic.
Papenhuyzen’s conversion to make it 18-8 looked to send the Storm well on their way.
Ronaldo Mulitalo had other plans in mind, crossing over minutes later to help Cronulla claw their way back into the game, however, Hynes’ season long kicking struggles saw the Sharks remain a steady 6 points behind.
The following fifteen minutes continued to be a back and forward affair, with Melbourne crossing after another trademark Munster and Papenhuyzen combination to secure a 12 point cushion.
However, Muitalo again brought his team back into the game with another try in his corner and Hynes kicked truely to set up an interesting six point margin with under 20 minutes to play.
Harry Grant made his first impact on the game with what became an embarrassing try out of dummy half for Cronulla to concede.
With 14 minutes to play, Cronulla would need a near miracle to overcome the 12 point deficit.
The final fifteen minutes became cruisy for the Storm, with consecutive penalty goals granting Melbourne a 16 point lead which allowed them to unwind and finish off the game without any injuries and record a deserved 34-18 victory.
Cronulla had plenty of positives to take away from the contest, including pushing Melbourne in the first hour of play as well as only making two errors for the entire match.
No complaints could come from the Melbourne camp, in what ended up becoming a very solid performance.
They remain one of the heavyweights of the competition and any queries about Munster’s future clearly didn’t phase the star half-back, with an electrifying performance that ultimately willed his club to victory.
Tries- J.Olam (2), C.Munster, R.Papenhuyzen, H.Grant.
Conversions- R.Papenhuyzen 5/5 Penalty Goals- R.Papenhuyzen 2/2
Tries: S.Talakai, R. Mulitalo (2)
Conversions- N. Hynes 2/3 Penalty Goals- N. Hynes 1/2
NRL News Player of the Match
3. Cameron Munster (MEL)
2. Ronaldo Mulitalo (SHA)
1. Siosifa Talakai (SHA)