Despite having the majority of their big names players watching from the stands, Cronulla have delivered one of the upsets of the season by defeating the Melbourne Storm 20-18 at a wet Shark Park this evening.
With big names Shaun Johnson, Matt Moylan, Aaron Woods and Wade Graham all watching from the stands, it was their young unheralded stars in Kyle Flanagan, Briton Nikora and Jack Williams who filled the void with one of the clubs most impressive wins in recent memory. On paper the Sharks looked to lack the firepower to trouble the competition heavyweights in the Storm, however John Morris' charges continued to dig deep and hold off superstars Cameron Munster and Cameron Smith who threatened to rally late and pinch the game at the death.
The Sharks set the ascendancy early when Storm five-eighth Cameron Munster spilt a ball inside his own half. Sharks half Chad Townsend then quickly shifted the ball to the left, finding centre Josh Morris who calmly put Sione Katoa over in the corner for the first try of the night. Kyle Flanagan converted from the sideline and the home side led 6-0.
Melbourne hit back in typical fashion, when Sharks prop Matt Prior gave away a penalty for being inside the 10 metres and the Storm made the cheap field possession count, when Munster and Jahrome Hughes combined to put a flying Josh Addo-Carr over to score and open their account. Skipper Cameron Smith hit the upright with his conversion and the Sharks held a slender 6-4 lead after 12 minutes.
The home side then surrendered the lead in unforgivable fashion, when Josh Dugan missed the shot clock off a line dropout. This resulted in a gift two points from in front for Melbourne, which Smith obliged and it was 6 all.
The Storm then advanced downfield off a Dugan error in front of his own posts, followed by a lazy penalty from the Sharks failing to get back the 10 metres. The pressure was too much for the Sharks defence, as Kiwi prop Jesse Bromwich charged towards the line to slam the ball down to score and allow his side to take a 12-6 lead following the Smith conversion.
With Sharks superstar halfback Shaun Johnson on the sideline, his replacement Kyle Flanagan then stepped up to the plate, placing a beautifully timed grubber for Briton Nikora to score and give his side the chance to tie up the scores before the break. Flanagan converted and it was 12 all at halftime.
Cronulla got the jump in the second stanza, when Flanagan kicked a penalty, which was against Storm centre Marion Seve for taking Sharks opposite Morris off the ball from a kick.
Interchange forward Brandon Hamlin-Uele then put his name up in lights, when he steamed onto the ball close to the line and barged his way over to score a great try. Flanagan converted to give the home side a 20-12 lead.
Melbourne had to chase the lead and things nearly turned when Cameron Smith came within millimetres of kicking a 40/20. Centre Will Chambers then put speedster Addo-Carr away and only a great tackle from Sharks custodian Josh Dugan stopped the Storm from hitting back. It was unlikely hero Kenny Bromwich who got the result for the visitors, when he held the ball up close to the line and found a flying Ryan Papenhuyzen, who charged onto a one handed offload to score beside the posts and give Melbourne a chance with only minutes left on the clock.
The Sharks managed to hold off the late Storm revival to record a very impressive victory over their bitter rivals in arguably the upset of the season. Given the amount of talent sitting in the stands, Sharks coach John Morris will be very proud of his young squad, who lifted against a quality opponent and managed to hold their nerve at the death, despite lacking a lot of NRL experience.
Both sides now head to Brisbane for the NRL's inaugural Magic Round next weekend, where the Sharks play the Titans on Thursday night. Melbourne will now face Parramatta on the Saturday night.