Storm clinch minor premiership
The Melbourne Storm have won the JJ Giltinan Shield as minor premiers after defeating the Cronulla Sharks 26-6 in a pulsating encounter at AAMI Park on Saturday night.
A double to Cheyse Blair and a record-setting try to Suliasi Vunivalu led the Storm past the Sharks in front of their biggest crowd of the season.
Both sides came out firing in the first half and the first 10 minutes set the tone for the remainder of the match.
The tackling pressure from every player reinforced just how much was on the line, and the visitors were able to break the deadlock in the 11th minute through a penalty goal to James Maloney.
Opportunities were scarce in the opening period as Maloney, and then Cameron Smith just four minutes later, opted to take the two from right in front of the uprights.
The Storm were on top and the Sharks' defence wouldn’t budge, but a brilliant flat ball from Blake Green saw Cheyse Blair break through the line and score the first try of the game.
Blair checked his run and stormed right past Green, and the five-eighth's pass was right in the stride of Blair, giving the winger a clear run to find himself under the posts.
Melbourne were pushing for a second and almost had one five minutes later after Green forced a goal-line dropout.
Instead of taking the hit up Kenny Bromwich shifted the ball wide as the Storm took the tacklers on, and found themselves just metres from the line when Will Chambers was brought down.
Two tackles later the Storm earnt themselves another penalty under the posts, and Smith was on hand to give the Storm a 10-2 advantage.
The Sharks were trying to force their way back into the contest, but game-ending injuries to Chris Heighington (concussion) and Joseph Paulo (knee) halted Cronulla's momentum.
With under two minutes left the Sharks looked certain to snatch a try back before half-time, but sheer desperation from Marika Koroibete kept the visitors out.
Melbourne over-committed in the middle of the field and an offload from Ben Barba saw the Sharks have three spare men down the right hand side, but Koroibete sprinted over as the ball shifted to Valentine Holmes on the touchline and Koroibete bundled the winger into touch.
The play summed up the first half for the Sharks, as once again they were close without going over, and the Storm would take a 10-2 lead into the break.
Cronulla needed to come out firing after half-time but it was the home side instead who resumed the scoring, as Blair forced his way over two minutes after the restart.
Munster found Blair and the centre picked the gap, pushing past Chad Townsend and Ben Barba to score his second of the game.
Melbourne had the JJ Giltinan Shield in their sights as their defence once again left the Sharks wanting.
Sosaia Feki was looking for the corner before Vunivalu met him at the line, putting Feki under enough pressure to force the winger into losing the ball in-goal.
Just four minutes later Vunivalu found himself at the other corner of the field, this time creating history.
Vunivalu caught Cooper Cronk cross field kick and scored his 22nd try of the year, the most any Melbourne Storm player has ever scored in one season.
Cronulla didn’t let the game slip past them as Gerald Beale scored in the corner with just 12 minutes remaining to bring the margin back to 14 points.
The Sharks let themselves down once again by making multiple unforced errors in promising positions, and Jesse Bromwich scored with three minutes to go to seal the Storm's spot as minor premiers.
Melbourne Storm 26 (Blair 2, Vunivalu, Bromwich tries; Smith 5 goals) defeated Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks 6 (Beale try; Maloney 1 goal) at AAMI Park. Half time: Storm 10-2. Crowd: 24,135.