Almanac League: Five Metre Gap – NRL Grand Final

@hamishneal

Like the way of the five metre gap in defence looking at the points you may have missed from the NRL Grand Final. The tenacious Sharks edged home 14-12 over a gallant Melbourne Storm outfit to claim their first top flight season-long title in their 50th year of existence. Shane Flanagan’s side lead 8-0 at the interval and it took until Jesse Bromwich’s 50th minute try until the Storm broke Cronulla’s line but Andrew Fifita’s four-pointer which left ten minutes to go by the time it was converted by James Maloney proved decisive.

After Ben Barba opened up the Melbourne defense in the 15th minute it seemed as if Cronulla might go on to score a further try in the first stanza but a combination of strong Melbourne defence and four first half errors meant Cronulla only managed the one try. It should be noted Melbourne made five errors of their own in the first period but notably as the Sharks sought to close out the game they only made one error in the second half. Coupled with their 88% completion rate (the same as Melbourne’s) Cronulla’s sole second half error was the only set they didn’t complete. In a way the Sharks produced an efficient Melbourne-like effort and ended up completing 35 of 40 sets. The Storm went 29/33 but aside from their two tries in 14 minutes from the 50th minute mark to Bromwich and Will Chambers respectively they didn’t force enough pressure when they did get opportunities on attack. In addition to this poor decision-making cost them in the final three minutes. Chambers could have found Cooper Cronk unmarked on his inside after the one-time Super Rugby player produced his own clever play to maintain possession. In the subsequent set (the final of the match) interchange player Ben Hampton turned play back to the middle when Storm centre Cheyse Blair appeared free on the right hand wing.

Having won a title with Penrith in 2003 Luke Lewis walked away from ANZ Stadium with a second premiership ring but also the Clive Churchill Medal for the man of the match. Lewis, 33, ran for 134 metres, made 27 tackles and produced one offload. The Australian and New South Wales representative ran for 110 metres on the edge in the Sharks’ preliminary final victory over the Cowboys as one of the Sharks best in the last few weeks with his finals experience proving crucial in a side with limited experience on the big day.

Fellow forward Fifita surged through the attention of multiple defenders to score the winning try in the manner which we pinpointed Melbourne might do having seen Bromwich do the same thing when the two sides last met in round 26. The final scoring play was a further example of how Cronulla played the game as they saw it and perhaps won it in the fashion many thought Melbourne would. Melbourne’s last grand final triumph, ironically, saw them score 14 points and when the Sharks beat Melbourne in round 4 at Shark Park the score was 14-6, but it was one of only three wins for Cronulla this season scoring 16 points or less.

On a night when they had five less sets of possession it was inevitable Melbourne would end up doing more defensive work with Storm skipper Cameron Smith making a colossal 73 tackles with teammate Tohu Harris making 45. Retiring Sharks rake Michael Ennis made 42 (the most for his side) as did Storm forward Kevin Proctor.

At Sydney Olympic Park earlier on Sunday the Illawarra Cutters 30-0 first half set up their 54-12 triumph in the NRL Interstate Championship as they outshone Queensland champs, the Burleigh Bears, winning nine tries to two. The day opened with a stunning victory for the Sydney Roosters who overturned a 28-6 half-time deficit to win 30-28 against the favoured Penrith Panthers. Johnny Tuivasa-Sheck, brother of Warriors fullback Roger, scored a long-range try eight minutes from time to hand the Tricolours the ‘little dance.’ On Monday at Leichhardt Oval a great weekend of rugby league was capped with the Redfern All Blacks winning both the men’s and women’s grand final of the NSW Koori Knockout. The prestigious indigenous tournament started with over 60 teams in the men’s category and sides making the latter stages of the event were peppered with NRL regulars, indeed Warriors outside back Jonathan Wright scored the penultimate try of Redfern’s 40-12 triumph over the Newcastle All Blacks who they also beat in the 2015 final. Monday’s results come after the Cherbourg Hornets and Murri Sista’s won the men’s and women’s events respectively at the Queensland equivalent – the Murri carnival – last weekend.

This review first appeared on From the sideline of sport.

 

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About Hamish Neal

Born in Lower Hutt New Zealand Hamish is forever wedded to all things All Black, All Whites, Tall Blacks and more. Writing more nowadays in his 'spare time' (what is that anyway?) but still with a passion for broadcasting. Has worked in various sports development roles in England, Northern Ireland and Australia.

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