Cronulla overcame a big loss to South Sydney the previous Monday and also the loss of captain Paul Gallen to a knee injury to end Melbourne’s nine-match winning run with a hard-fought 12-10 victory at Toyota Stadium in Round 10.
It took them some time to find their feet, with the Storm drawing first blood 12 minutes in when Cooper Cronk hoisted a bomb into the swirling wind; Sharks winger Isaac Gordon couldn’t haul it in and Dane Nielsen pounced to make it 6-0.
However, Gordon quickly made amends and boosted his side’s confidence after finishing off a slick backline move just three minutes later to score on the right edge.
The Sharks produced some big hits in defence but they couldn’t stop Matt Duffie from scoring in the 26th-minute – Melbourne producing their own backline beauty for Slater to throw a perfectly timed pass and give his side a 10-6 half-time lead.
The second half was 14 minutes old when the decisive moment of the match occurred: attacking the Storm line, Cronulla halfback Jeff Robson put a speculative grubber in behind the line and when Slater barged him off the ball, referee Jason Robinson had no choice but to send the Storm fullback to the sin-bin.
Despite holding firm against a Sharks barrage in Slater’s absence, the weight of possession eventually told and Jeremy Smith leveled the scores when he barged over from close range with 10 minutes remaining. That gave Todd Carney the chance to put his side in front for the first time and he nailed the conversion from wide out, with Cronulla holding on for a crucial victory.
Very little separated the sides through the 80 minutes, however in the end Melbourne’s 44 missed tackles came back to bite them.
Cronulla prop Bryce Gibbs was superb for the home side, running for 174 metres and making 34 tackles, while Slater made 163 metres for Melbourne.