2016 Grand Final: Five key points
The ghost of Harold Holt laid to rest, Michael Ennis goes out swinging, James Maloney stamps himself as an elite playmaker and Storm's defence stands to the very end.
Harold Holt, may you rest in peace
It has become the catchcry of the finals series that spawned its own hashtag (#turnonyourporchlight) but finally the immortal words of Jack Gibson that waiting for the Sharks to win a premiership is like leaving the porch light on for Harold Holt can now forever be laid to rest.
A sea of black, blue and white turned ANZ Stadium to an outer suburb of the Shire for one night only and the players with 50 years of history weighing heavily shrugged it from their shoulders and went at the throats of the Storm from the opening minute.
They ran faster, hit harder and against any other team would have pounded them into submission but a Storm team that had defended better than any other team all season refused to give in.
Tries to Jesse Bromwich and Will Chambers incredibly gave the Storm a four-point lead with just 15 minutes of the 2016 Telstra Premiership to play but it was left to Cronulla's anti-hero Andrew Fifita to use brute force to edge Cronulla ahead yet again.
Melbourne kept coming, Chambers somehow manufacturing possession down a short-side grubber kick with two minutes left to play but in a very un-Storm-like fashion their last tackle options failed them yet again.
Their last punch came after the final siren had sounded and threatened to consign Cronulla to another cruel twist of grand final fate but there was a sense of destiny that simply couldn't be denied.
Grown men collapsed to their knees, "Up, Up Cronulla" rang out amongst the 83,625 fans and finally, after 50 years, Harold Holt can now rest in peace.
Ennis goes out swinging
From the second tackle of the grand final Michael Ennis made it abundantly clear that the tenacity that had defined his career would again be prominent and he refused to let up for the entire 80 minutes. A high shot on Jordan McLean was an early concession but merely a taste of what was to come. He came up with a grubber kick close to the line and produced the tackle to keep Cheyse Blair in-goal and then shoved Marika Koroibete to the ground when the Storm winger caught Chad Townsend with a high shot across the jaw. With Cooper Cronk's second kick of the game Ennis drove him into the ANZ Stadium turf and then when Cameron Smith spilled an Ennis kick a couple of metres from the Storm try-line his opposite number gave him a hearty back-slap that drew the ire of Smith's Melbourne teammates.
After the break he got under the skin of Suliasi Vunivalu who threw his headgear away in frustration and continued to chip away at Melbourne both with his skill around the ruck and his abrasive on-field persona.
It was quintessential Ennis and will serve as the crowning glory of his career.
James Maloney takes place among elite
The game's lovable rogue who sends coaches a little bit mad showed on Sunday night that he is much more than a cheeky competitor who is fleet of foot; he reaffirmed his status as one of the game's elite playmakers. Crowned the Dally M Five-Eighth of the Year for the first time on Wednesday, Maloney split the much heralded Storm defence twice in the opening 15 minutes and his combination with Wade Graham on the left edge caused Cooper Cronk nightmares all night.
His nine line breaks prior to the game were the most by any of the halves featuring in the decider and the confidence he instils in those around him ensured that the Sharks not only kept any nerves in check but absolutely steam-rolled the Storm with a high energy effort that didn't let up for 40 minutes. Other players may receive the plaudits, Jimmy Maloney can be content with two premierships in the past four years.
Cronk fails to assert his authority on contest
Whether the Dally M Player of the Year was subdued by the tenacious defence of the Sharks or it was a plan to split the playmaking duties between he and Blake Green, Cooper Cronk failed to have the type of influence on a game of football that we have come to expect. He found touch with his first kick of the game after the Storm were smashed in the opening set but Melbourne kept going left to Blake Green, particularly in the first half. Green was sound but this is the type of stage that Cronk has produced the best football of his career and where his teammates look for him most. We may find in the aftermath that the champion No.7 was in some way injured and played through pain but for now it was a performance well down on what we have come to expect.
Melbourne's defence stands up to the very end
The purple wall repelled attacks on their line better than any team through 26 rounds of the regular season but they never had to display the type of courage that was on show on Sunday night. For the first 40 minutes the Sharks attacked Melbourne's line with ferociousness, dominating territory and possession to the point where the Storm defenders could barely stand. A scrum move that led directly to Ben Barba's try was the only chink in the armour for more than three quarters of the game as the Storm endeavoured to counter a Sharks attack desperately looking for a knockout blow. The scoreboard read two tries apiece but the Storm made the equivalent of 20 more sets of six tackles in even keeping a contest, a contest they very nearly snatched with the final play of the game.