Melbourne shrugged off last week’s loss to Parramatta and a sloppy first-half performance to out-last Cronulla 30-10 at Olympic Park and maintain their stranglehold on another top-four finish this season.
Five tries in the final 20 minutes flattered the home side, who had seen Cronulla draw level early in the first half through a Luke Covell try before they stepped on the gas pedal with a late blitz.
Joseph Tomane was first to a Brett Finch bomb in the 60th minute to give his side the lead again before Melbourne’s classy backline kicked into top gear with tries to Ryan Hinchcliffe, Brett Anderson, Will Chambers and Cameron Smith making the win look easier than it really was.
Coach Craig Bellamy must still have some concerns, however, with Melbourne only taking full control after the Sharks lost four players to injury during the game. They included NSW five-eighth Trent Barrett, who was concussed twice, once when running into the hip of Brett White. He was forced to spend time on the sideline to recover.
Prop John Mannah was also taken off with a suspected back injury and Kade Snowden damaged his shoulder, while centre Matt Wright was the victim of a Jeff Lima crusher tackle that ended his night prematurely.
Lima was put on report for his actions although the match review committee found no reason to lay charges.
Cronulla battled on bravely and scored their second try in the 73rd-minute when Blake Ferguson crossed out wide but Cameron Smith had the last laugh when he stepped and dummied his way over from 15 metres out.
The Storm boast a three-point buffer zone from fifth-placed Manly.
The Game Swung When… Joseph Tomane scored in the 60th minute to break a six-all deadlock.
The Sharks had battled on bravely after losing three players during the game to injury but Tomane’s try seemed to break their spirit and the floodgates opened during the final minutes.
Who Was Hot… It was Melbourne’s big names that shone when it mattered most with Billy Slater, Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk coming up with the big plays that decided the game.
Sika Manu was also impressive up front for the Storm, notching 119 metres.
Bryan Norrie led the way for Cronulla with 124 metres from 16 hit-ups.
Who Was Not… Incredibly, Manu was the only Melbourne forward to top 100 metres for the game with Matt Cross (54), Brett White (56), Adam Blair (62) and Jeff Lima (82) all struggling to make an impact despite Cronulla’s injury woes.
Had To Be Seen To Be Believed… Cronulla’s bench looked more like a casualty ward during a remarkable period midway through the game that saw four players taken from the field.
Both starting props – Kade Snowden and John Mannah – were forced off early with potentially serious injuries, Matthew Wright played no further part of a crusher tackle and Trent Barrett knocked himself senseless twice – the second time forcing an un-planned rest.
Injuries… Matt Wright (Sharks) – neck, TBA; John Mannah (Sharks) – neck, TBA; Kade Snowden (Sharks) – shoulder, 0-1 weeks.
Bad Boys… Although Lima escaped charge team-mate Adam Blair was charged with a dangerous throw in the 47th minute; he’ll miss a week with an early guilty plea.
Refs Watch… A quiet night out for Ben Cummins and Brett Suttor.
NRL.com Best & Fairest… 3 points – Cooper Cronk (Storm): Looked to be his side’s most dangerous attacking player early on and played a role in three Melbourne tries; 2 points – Billy Slater (Storm): Ran for a game-high 141 metres and threatened with each touch; 1 point – Bryan Norrie (Sharks): Stood tall to make a team-high 124 metres when most of his front-row partners were falling like flies around him.
Storm 30 (B Anderson 2, J Tomane, R Hinchcliffe, W Chambers, C Smith tries; C Smith 2 goals, J Tomane goal) def Sharks 10 (L Covell, B Ferguson tries; L Covell goal) at Olympic Park. Crowd: 10,533.