Sharks v Storm: Five key points
Although the blowout final score doesn't tell the full story of a willing arm-wrestle, the fact remains Melbourne were far too good for a frustrated Cronulla side at Remondis Stadium on Monday night. Here are five key points from the Storm's 30-2 win.
Storm start slow – before the game
The Melbourne players arrived at the ground in unusual fashion – via taxi, due to the team bus breaking down after arriving at the hotel to pick them up. It didn't seem to slow them down on the field, as they shrugged off an early Michael Gordon penalty goal to lead 12-2 at the break and 30-2 after 80 minutes.
"The bus broke down so we had to get a cab," Storm coach Craig Bellamy said after the game.
"That wasn't ideal but these things happen. The bus driver got there but broke down in front of our hotel. The traffic wasn't as bad as we thought so we all got here on time so it was no big issue."
Cronulla lose the wrestle
Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan and captain Paul Gallen said after the game the Storm were still the competition frontrunners when it came to controlling the ruck and conceded they needed to take a lesson from Bellamy's playbook.
"They definitely made it hard for us the way they defended and the way they were allowed to defend, it was a tough night that way," Flanagan said.
"They wrestled really strong, they had good contact, we couldn't get any momentum, we were playing of the back of slow play the balls all the time. It was just too hard to play. We couldn't get any field position.
"They defended or wrestled really well."
Gallen agreed: "We just couldn't get any momentum; we tried hard off the back of slow play the balls," he said.
"We can take a leaf out of their book and wrestle the way they did. If they wrestle like that the rest of the year they're going to be hard to beat.
"As 'Flanno' said we couldn't get any momentum. If they're allowed to do that they're going to be well and truly up there when it comes the end of the year because they were very good at it tonight."
Munster goes from strength to strength
Stand-in Storm fullback Cameron Munster continues to mask the absence of injured custodian Billy Slater beautifully. On Monday night he ran for a game-high 295 metres (around 70 of those on the last play of the game after scooping up a loose ball and streaking away to score) while registering a match-high six tackle busts. He slotted into a right-side attacking move and fired a cut-out to send Matt Duffie over for a try and generally popped up wherever he was needed to take a tough carry or support attacking players, defuse a kick while also helping organise the side in defence.
"He's getting a bit more time at the back there now," Smith said. "He was in and out of that fullback role when Billy was playing, he was sort of playing in the centres, the halves, at fullback, he was a bit of a Mr Fixit for us there for a while but now that he's settled in that position he's getting a lot of time there and I think he feels comfortable now at number one.
"His talk has improved, his organisational skills defensively have improved, that's come with a lot of work and a lot of vision done with Billy.
"The best thing about Cameron Munster is he's a brave kid, he always puts his body on the line. He's not afraid to get the ball in his hands when we need him to take some tough carries off our own end. That's a really pleasing thing to see when you're doing it pretty tough in the middle. He's doing a really good job for us, he's only a young fella so it's our job as leaders to try and keep his feet on the ground a little bit but if he keeps improving he's going to finish with a high quality season."
Smith said while the Storm struggled at first when Slater was ruled out Munster has grown into the position in attack but more importantly in defence, in particular his confidence to tell senior players where they need to get to.
"It's pretty daunting, he's only a young fella – what is he, 20 or 21 – to come in and tell blokes to get into position that have been playing the game for a long time, but he's got that confidence now. We always had the belief, there was never any doubt in our mind that he could play the game, it just took some belief and confidence in himself to get the job," Smith said.
Second-phase no boost for Sharks
The Sharks had no fears about offloading the ball in traffic on Monday night, registering a huge 20 offloads – four times more than their opponents.
Often it was when they looked their most dangerous – the set leading up to their opening penalty goal saw them march downfield on the back of a couple of offloads – but ultimately it didn't help them get across the stripe.
Once the clock and scoreboard pressure started to tell those offloads got less precise, although Cronulla only ended up making two more errors than their opponents all night (nine, compared to seven).
Still, the Storm were able to scramble well in the face of willing offloading from five-eight Jack Bird (five offloads) and lock Paul Gallen (three) while several other players had one or two each.
Storm defence a point of pride
Unsurprisingly, not conceding a try against Cronulla was the most pleasing aspect of the night for Storm mentor Craig Bellamy.
The Storm barely had the ball over a 10-minute period in the second half where Cronulla forced back-to-back goal line drop outs yet kept their try line intact throughout.
Despite at times leaking points earlier in the year, Melbourne are now the second-best defensive side in the NRL after the Roosters.
"I was really happy with them. Our defence was consistently good which hasn't been a real strong point of our game this year," Bellamy said of his charges.
"We controlled the ball pretty well. We knew we were going to have to because that's what they've been doing well through their successful run so we knew we'd have to match them there. We needed a disciplined performance and we needed it for 80 minutes and that's what we got tonight.
"Those tries [we scored at the end] came through our defence, they got a bit frustrated and tried to push a few passes which they weren't in that sort of position the last few weeks."