Smith's heroics highlight Storm's spirit
Only twice in the history of the NRL has a player made more tackles than Cameron Smith did in Sunday's Telstra Premiership Grand Final, but the Storm skipper conceded his side's defensive workload proved too much to overcome.
In the first half alone as the Sharks set up camp inside the Melbourne half the minor premiers were forced to make 88 more tackles than their opposition and at the end of the 80 minutes they had made a total of 435 tackles to Cronulla's 308.
Smith alone made 73 tackles, third only to Elijah Taylor's 77 tackles for the Panthers last year and Nathan Hindmarsh with 75 in 2007 against the Storm.
But in order to keep their line intact the captain wasn't the only one rolling up his sleeves with Tohu Harris racking up 46 tackles for the game and Kevin Proctor and Jesse Bromwich each with 40.
At half-time Smith had already amassed 37 tackles and Harris and Proctor 23 apiece so when the time came to launch a counter-attack in the second half the Storm struggled to first gather momentum and then maintain it.
"The amount of work we did in that first half probably showed in the back half of the game," Smith conceded.
"I can't fault anyone in our side for the effort that they showed tonight. It was a special effort to only be eight points down at half-time with the possession and field position that the Sharks had.
"The first half was very taxing. We didn't have much ball, I think we played pretty much that first 40 minutes down our end defending our own try-line. Numerous repeat sets on our line, to finish the half I think we had four consecutive sets on our line.
"I thought the boys did a fantastic effort just to be eight points down at half-time but we're quite a resilient side.
"We're a mentally tough team, we're a physically tough team, we're fit, coming in at half-time we backed ourselves to get back in the game and we did that, even after the Sharks started probably better than we did in the second half."
Storm coach Craig Bellamy struggled to answer whether or not he was surprised his side was able to get back in the game and then hit the front with 15 minutes left to play, praising the strength of character that has been evident each and every week throughout 2016.
"I wouldn't say I was surprised that we fought back like we did because these guys have been doing that all year," said Bellamy.
"They've been fighting all year, they've been resilient all year and it was a tremendous effort to be only 8-0 down at half-time. To actually get back in the game and lead was a tremendous effort.
"I don't care what anyone says tonight, no one is going to make me less proud of my boys and what they've done this year and what they've done tonight.
"They've been magnificent for our club and they've been magnificent for our game.
"Sometimes they don't get the raps I think they deserve and not just how they play, but how they conduct themselves on and off the field and how they build the game in a foreign land."
If the scoreboard was to truly reflect the dominance Cronulla exerted for much of the 80 minutes, Melbourne would have been put to the sword a long way from full-time but even with the final play of the game after the siren had sounded they threatened to instil more premiership pain on the Shire.
Desperate passing from one side of the field to the other on the last tackle of the game twice opened up space on the edges, but Bellamy was left to rue a couple of pressure passes that didn't quite hit their mark at the crucial time.
"I thought when we came out to the left that if one or two of the passes had been right on the spot I thought we might have been able to creep over in the corner," said Bellamy.
"We had a couple of chances there towards the end but at the end of the day, it is what it is and I don't want to take anything away from Cronulla. Without doubt they were much the better side tonight, especially in that first half.
"For them to win the first premiership their club's ever won, that's a huge effort.
"They played well, they started with a lot of energy, they probably ran harder than us in the first half so they deserved their lead and they deserved to win."