Melbourne Storm 2 Cronulla Sharks 11
4:00pm, Sunday 9th April
AAMI Park, Melbourne
In part it’s down to the weather. It was properly barrelling down; see-it-on-TV rain. It was also a case of two very good sides dragging each other down to the levels lesser teams aspire to drag them down to. And then dragging each other down some more. I couldn’t believe how poor it all was. I couldn’t care less about how poor it all was. Cronulla have won in glorious Melbourne for the first time since 2008. Cronulla are – despite themselves – only one win off the top of the NRL ladder.
After watching the Sharks turn in two awful performances in the first five weeks, here was a reminder that anybody can have one. Bellamy organises Melbourne to such an extent as to ensure that even their bad days are enough to overcome many teams, as we saw in their win at Leichhardt a fortnight ago. Here they bottomed out to a nadir of dropped ball, flustered play and ineffectual hit-ups. While the Sharks were hardly better for the first hour, they can take credit for their role in the home side’s deficiencies. As per October, Cooper Cronk couldn’t move without Graham and Maloney snapping at his heels or neck. Maloney missed as many tackles as he made on the day, but the irrepressible defensive appetite gave Cronk far less time than he likes to operate with.
Still, you can only do so much as a half when your forwards are straining to gain ground. In the absence of Jesse Bromwich, only Dale Finucane managed 100 metres. For contrast, four members of Cronulla’s pack managed the feat. The captain doing 200 is so common that you can easily take it for granted. Again he highlighted the hole that’ll need filling in a post-Gallen era. Devoid of quality moments, the game was determined by players 8 through to 17.
You need a dash of luck to win down in Victoria’s capital. Early on it’s in short supply. Cronulla get some joy peppering Melbourne’s left edge where the injured Cheyse Blair usually stands, but a Beale try is chalked off for a marginal forward pass from Bird. Brailey looks to have taken full advantage of a Vunivalu mistake but for a scrum infringement. Guess you could say we got away with one in the grand final, to be fair. Passes in the red zone either fly too high or too deep. The Sharks should score in a half where the Storm never threaten to. Incomplete sets become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Players lose the ball mostly because they’ve just seen someone else do it. The game deteriorates to the point where whoever can complete three sets in a row will probably win. Penalty. 2-2. Then Graham. Knocked down by an unpunished shoulder charge. Back on his feet. Then an angry run where he bounces off Melburnians and puts his team in position for a repeat set.
Nine years. It took a field goal to win it that day; Brett Kimmorley with one of my favourite one-pointers. Struck it true as you can. Through the posts and halfway out the stadium. Nine years forward; ten minutes to go; fifteen metres further in. Fourth tackle. Segeyaro to Maloney, who’s stood so close to the line that the defenders are convinced he can’t be lining up a… but he is, and does. 3-2 to Cronulla. Now here’s how a narrow lead can become a bigger one. This is why I’m always banging a kick-the-field-goal-sooner-than-later drum. Segeyaro grubbers for a dropout. If scores are level, Slater cuts his losses and forces the ball down. Instead he gambles. There’s enough time left to suggest he doesn’t have to, but the scoreboard dictates that he feels he has to. Slater tries to pick up and run, the slippery ball evades his grasp, Segeyaro pounces with the benefit of fresh legs (along with the hindrance of a broken arm, it’s since been revealed), gets his hand to the ball first while about 82 others are reaching for it, and that’s the match.
Cronulla were dire. Melbourne worse. Unwatchable for anyone without an emotional investment or professional obligation. None of this matters. We go to Penrith with three straight wins and loads of room for improvement. It won’t always be pretty. This is the eye of the storm. It’s what men in stained raincoats pay for. Up the hardcore Sharks.
Cronulla Sharks 11 (James Segeyaro try, James Maloney 3 goals, Maloney field goal) defeated Melbourne Storm 2 (Cameron Smith goal). Crowd: 12 694.