Almanac Rugby League – NRL Round 4: Sharks vs Storm – Cronulla stop feeling unlucky, overcome Melbourne curse

Cronulla Sharks 14  Melbourne Storm 6

7:00 pm, Monday 28th March

Shark Park, Sydney

Paul Macadam

 

There are several teams I seldom look forward to facing, but only one that I dread. Melbourne. The Storm.  They’re never beaten and it’s never easy. It’s really not an irrational fear. It dates back to the 1999 Grand Final, where Melbourne hauled in a 14-0 deficit to beat St. George/Illawarra under contentious circumstances. 2003 was the point at which this fear became mildly pathological. Round 1, with all the optimism a new season brings. Cronulla led by 22 after as many minutes, then 32-24 with only five left. Somehow the Storm won. I was so crushed by this defeat that I avoided home games against Melbourne for 12 years. On their turf in 2012, the Sharks endured another utterly wrenching loss, courtesy of two late Storm tries in two-and-a-half minutes. Finally summoned the guts to go back last year, also on a Monday night. They did us by 30-2. Left the stadium at 18-2. My inner ex-Catholic declares that I haven’t suffered enough, and so here we are.

 

It’s big, this. I can’t adequately stress how great the difference is between 2-2 after a month and 1-3 after a month. Cronulla start as though they understand this importance, with three defenders in each tackle, and conviction in every run. In near-identical circumstances to a fortnight ago, Holmes grabs an intercept, running 75 metres before Cronk chops him down. Will Chambers is penalised – then binned – for holding on too long. The Dragons gave an instruction manual on how not to handle a one-man advantage, but the Sharks seem eager to imitate their mistakes. An unforced penalty catapults Melbourne out of trouble. Set plays are hurried, improvised plays are worse. Townsend sees Holmes free out wide, but his pass finds the winger’s head instead of chest, and the chance vanishes. Mere seconds after Chambers returns, Melbourne score. 20 minutes in, 6-0 down. Farcically, the scoreboard reads 4-4. It’s corrected, but the technological error grimly fits events on the field. I turn to dad and say this feels like one of those nights. Home fans are silent. They can feel the soil falling over their heads.

 

Twelve minutes before the break, Maloney puts Barba through with a deft inside pass. I don’t know why, but we look more likely to score from 50 metres out than from 10. Ben runs the best part of the former distance to make it 6-4. Shortly after, Holmes knocks on with the tryline open. Thinking about planting the ball, not thinking about catching the ball. How’s he managed to… all he had to do was… one of those nights. Melbourne kindly invite Cronulla back in. The last set of the half is pure panic. 55 seconds can be plenty of time if you use possession wisely. But every tackle is handled as though it’s the last tackle. The Sharks end up 20 metres further back from where they started. Maloney stabs a limp chip straight to Munster, and that’s the half over.

 

I slump down on the grass beneath the southern grandstand. I’m in a funk that can’t even be shaken out by Beck’s “Sexx Laws” playing over the tannoy. We’re wasting this. Surely Melbourne won’t be that bad in the next 40.

 

They’re not. The Sharks are just better. Holmes comes infield. Searching for the ball. Knowing he has mistakes to atone for. You blink and he’s out of sight. There’s always a place for raw pace. This is what a lad who’s dead fast can do. Townsend in support, Holmes finds him, Townsend runs in under the posts. 10-6 to Cronulla. Apparently from nowhere. There are times when we make scoring a try seem the hardest task in the world. Times where we have to half kill ourselves to get the oval thing over the line thing. I can’t figure it out. A penalty goal. Then a repeat set. A prolonged raid on the Melbourne line, but the killer blow isn’t landed. Melbourne dominate from 55 to 60. Making metres with ease, ending each set in a threatening position. Lewis (I think?) pounces on a loose pass. Feels like a huge moment. Is. Koroibete trips Townsend. Another two points, and now a lead of eight.

 

Ennis concedes a cheap penalty on 65. Minutes later, he wins one. The Storm are frustrated. As you’d expect, he’s been needling them since the opening whistle. The endless needle of Ennis. A bastard to play against, a brilliant bastard to play with. Melbourne have a set around 72 that seems to go for a hundred tackles. It shaves three years off my life expectancy, but Cronulla hold on. Ennis is the first across to congratulate Barba.

 

Yet again the Storm return. Feki clings onto a towering kick despite hurting his leg in the process, and the Sharks are home. Feel the relief within you. Hear it all around you. We’re home now. Winning at home. Like we ought to do, like we don’t do often enough. Sing the song of winning, sing it again for good measure. Walk in a pack back to Woolooware station. The boys – and girls – in the black, white and blue. This team does your head in and wears your lungs out, but you love them. Let’s take two points from Campbelltown on Saturday. I’m done with cautious pessimism, couldn’t be more done with it. Let’s dream a little. Up the bastard Sharks.

 

CRONULLA SHARKS 14 (Ben Barba, Chad Townsend tries, James Maloney 3 goals) defeated MELBOURNE STORM 6 (Felise Kaufusi try, Cameron Smith 1 goal). Crowd: 9155.

About Paul Macadam

Songwriter under my own name, drummer for Library Siesta. Newly ecstatic Cronulla tragic who also loves Liverpool because life wasn't meant to be easy. Too slow for the wing, too skinny for the second row.

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