The Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks have cemented their spot inside the NRL's top 4 with a commanding 22 point win over the Melbourne Storm with both sides missing key stars to kick off Round 17 at Pointsbet Stadium.
Both sides were short on big names due to Origin and COVID protocols but it was the Sharks who rubbed salt into the wounds of the Storm launching an aggressive attacking raid that would send Craig Bellamy into a fit of rage before the end of the first half. Cronulla kicked off proceedings when Jesse Ramien crossed for the first of his three tries. It came off a great play out to the right-hand side which engaged the sloppy Melbourne Storm defence and the rangy centre crossed for the first try of the evening.
The home side got into the spirit of Try July and their aggressive attacking raid left fans wanting more and more try celebrations. They wouldn't be disappointed when off the back of a cheap penalty, Matt Moylan engaged the defence and threw a dummy straight past an out-of-touch Ryan Papenhuyzen before linking up with Blayke Brailey to cross for the Sharks and the lead was out to 10 points rather quickly. Ramien thought he had a quick-fire double inside 25 minutes but a well-positioned Adam Gee ruled that the centre lost the ball over the line and the try was disallowed.
Cronulla didn't have to wait long before nabbing a third try of the opening 40 when Moylan again turned provider putting a well-weighted kick in behind Grant Anderson and Ronaldo Mulitalo won the race to the ball before catching his centre partner with a clever post-try celebration and Cronulla were having a time of it. Braydon Trindall nailed the conversion from the sideline and Cronulla had an early cushion and Melbourne was facing deja-vu from last week's defensive disaster. Craig Bellamy would go from semi-angry to full-blown temper tantrum just a set later after Papenhuyzen was caught at marker when the Sharks shifted it right and Sione Katoa put a clever kick in behind and Jesse Ramien grabbed his double to give Cronulla a 20-0 lead at the change of ends.
If you thought the first half couldn't have made Melbourne fans any more angry and upset, the injuries added more salt to the fresh wounds. Grant Anderson left shortly after the resumption after his elbow was bent awkwardly. Worse was to come when Papenhuyzen battled through a series of injuries in the second half, but it was clear to even the most passionate of supporters that he was struggling. Cronulla was letting key attacking passages down with ill-timed mistakes and forward passes, but their defence frustrated the Storm.
This led to Brandon Smith taking out his anger on referee Gee and the referee didn't hesitate in sin-binning him for dissent. Melbourne's defence held firm while Smith was off until the final set until his return when Katoa grabbed a try off yet another slick movement involving Trindall, Moylan and Ramien before finding his winger and crossing for the first try of the second half. Ramien grabbed a hattrick to continue Melbourne's sloppy defensive record as of late making it the fifth match they've conceded over 26 points this season making the score 28-0. Melbourne would grab a consolation try when Alec MacDonald (who was one of their best tonight) crashed over the top of Briton Nikora to reduce the margin to 22 points.
Cronulla have a big game next Friday night when they make the trip up north to Townsville to play the Cowboys, Melbourne meanwhile has a game against Canberra back at AAMI Park on Sunday afternoon.