Storm shut down Sharks at Remondis
Cronulla's top-four aspirations took a major hit when they were held tryless by Melbourne at home on Monday night, going down 30-2 in front of a healthy 10,269-strong crowd.
Cronulla's kicking game let them down at crucial times while the Storm's robust goal-line defence frustrated their opponents out of the game.
Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan held impact-man Ben Barba back until the final 15 minutes of the game but his entry, with the score at 12-2, made little difference to a side that increasingly looked to push passes and take risks in pursuit of points, resulting in even more errors.
For the Storm, halfback Cooper Cronk and hooker Cameron Smith showed far greater accuracy with the boot, while fullback Cameron Munster continues to make a mockery of predictions Melbourne's season ended when Billy Slater's shoulder gave way during the Origin series.
An early shot for two points ended up being Cronulla's only scoring play of the night despite several near misses.
The home side opened the scoring in just the 7th minute on the back of a positive set with a series of offloads that pinned the Storm on the back foot then earned a penalty, with skipper Paul Gallen opting for an easy shot at two points when a follow-up offside penalty right in front provided the opportunity.
Unfortunately for the Sharks a combination of poor execution, inconsistent kicking and good Storm defence would combine to prevent them from adding to those two points before the half-time whistle as the visitors proved better at taking their chances.
When Gallen gave up an offside penalty shortly after the Storm hit the lead in soft fashion when a flat Cronk cut-out at the line sent prop Jesse Bromwich sailing through a yawning chasm which opened up when Luke Lewis came in on decoy Dale Finucane and Jack Bird went out to cover the long ball or kick.
It became 12-2 inside 20 minutes when, on the back of a seven-tackle set resulting from a Michael Ennis grubber that was slightly too heavy for Gerard Beale, the Storm marched upfield and created a right-side overlap for Matt Duffie to score.
The Sharks had a possible try denied when Feki cleaned up the scraps from a Jeff Robson bomb when it was found Duffie was tackled in the air in the lead-up in their best chance of the opening half.
The Sharks continued to promote the ball in the second half, which was when they looked the most dangerous – eventually winning the offload count 18-4 – but the Storm were able to recover at every turn, even when a slightly (if only temporarily) improved kicking game resulted in the visitors being forced to drop out twice in a row.
The first points of a grinding second half didn't arrive until the 66th minute, when Duffie earned his double after swooping on a deft Will Chambers grubber that snaked inside the right hand touchline.
With the result well beyond doubt Melbourne added two late tries when Dale Finucane cleaned up a bomb that eluded Leutele's grasp in the 77th minute, then Munster swept up a Robson dropped ball inside his own half to streak 70 metres to score seconds from full-time.
The result keeps the Storm's top-four aspirations flickering while denting Cronulla's, with both sides now locked on 28 points – two adrift of fourth-placed South Sydney but two ahead of seventh-placed Canterbury.
Some unwelcome news arrived for Melbourne in the shadows of full-time with try-scorer Finucane taken from the field with a possible broken arm.
Melbourne Storm 30 (Duffie 2, Bromwich, Finucane, Munster tries, Smith 5 goals) defeated Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks 2 (Gordon goal). Half-time: Melbourne 12-2. Crowd: 10,269.