They finished the regular season in second place but the Storm headed into the playoffs on a losing note, going down 22-16 at home to Penrith in the final round of the regular season.
It mattered little, as the NRL titleholders came from behind more than once to beat South Sydney by a point in a thrilling week one finals clash.
As much as they would've loved a rematch with the Panthers, Melbourne must surely be relishing the chance for another crack at the Sharks.
Cronulla have had the Storm's measure this season, just like they did in the 2016 grand final.
Of their two meetings in 2018, the Sharks prevailed 14-4 at home in round four before claiming an equally gritty 17-14 victory in Melbourne in round 22.
Storm v Sharks - Preliminary Final
Cronulla won their final four games of the regular season and it would've been six on the trot if not for a 12-10 loss to Brisbane (round 20) and 33-32 loss to Manly (round 21).
They lost to the Roosters in week one of the finals before staying in the premiership race with last week's 21-20 win over Penrith.
Melbourne are expected to be at full strength, while the Sharks will be without Wade Graham (knee injury) and are sweating on the fitness of veteran back-rowers Paul Gallen and Luke Lewis after both picked up injuries against the Panthers.
Key match-up: Billy Slater might be the greatest fullback of all time but he hasn't been the standout No.1 in 2018. While Slater has had his usual moments of brilliance, Valentine Holmes has played more games and barely put a foot wrong. Here's hoping the former Queensland Origin teammates put on an exciting show.
For the Storm to win: The forwards need to hold their own against the workmanlike Cronulla pack, while Cameron Smith will have to add to the legend with a dominant display and ensure he has his goal-kicking boots on. Melbourne will also be banking on Slater and Cam Munster to give their speedy wingers good service, while Will Chambers should be fresh after serving a three-game suspension.
For the Sharks to win: Cronulla know what they will get from their forwards and the likes of Holmes, but halves Chad Townsend and Matt Moylan occasionally look like they're still learning each other's strengths and weaknesses – which they probably are given Moylan only arrived at the club this season. The Sharks are a huge chance of winning if Townsend and Moylan maintain their recent good form.
Storm Stat Attack: Melbourne kicked more goals than any team during the 25-round regular season, with Cam Smith knocking over 84 to be third behind Jamayne Isaako and Gareth Widdop. The Storm finished third in tries and third in total points. On the down side they had the most handling errors and second-most errors overall.
Match Highlights: Sharks v Panthers - Finals Week 2, 2018
Sharks Stat Attack: Valentine Holmes has made more line breaks (25) than anybody else in the NRL in 2018 and scored 21 tries. Chad Townsend leads the NRL in support play and was arguably his team's best player against Penrith, while Andrew Fifita is first in offloads (72) but also the competition's most penalised player (35).
And another thing: Since taking over from former Storm coach Mark Murray, Craig Bellamy has guided his team to 15 finals appearances in 16 years, finishing on top of the ladder six times and winning four grand finals. Due to serious salary cap breaches, the club was stripped of two premierships and three minor premierships, but Bellamy deserves his spot among the all-time great coaches. The only year he didn't get them to the playoffs was 2010 when the NRL banned the Storm from playing for premiership points because of the salary cap situation.
Melbourne Storm v Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks, Friday 7.40pm at AAMI Park
Storm: Melbourne welcome back Will Chambers (suspension) and Nelson Asofa-Solomona (ankle) to a full-strength side, while Brandon Smith has been elevated to the bench at the expense of Ryan Hoffman. Jahrome Hughes was cut with Hoffman an hour before kick-off, while Sam Kasiano and Cheyse Blair were dropped on Thursday.
Sharks: Coach Shane Flanagan has made a late minor change, promoting Aaron Woods to start at lock and switching Joseph Paulo to the bench. Paul Gallen was earlier ruled out with a shoulder injury. Josh Dugan has been unable to force his way into the 17-man team and was cut with Kyle Flanagan an hour before kick-off. Gallen and Ava Seumanufagai were omitted 24 hours before game time.
Head-to-head in NRL era: Played 36; Storm 22 wins, Sharks 14 wins
Previous result: Sharks won 17-14 at AAMI Park in round 22
Points per game (regular season): Storm 22.3 (5th); Sharks 21.6 (6th)
Points conceded per game (regular season): Storm 15.1 (2nd); Sharks 17.6 (3rd)
Televised: Live on Nine, Fox League
Craig Wing's tip: AAMI Park is usually a bit of a fortress for the Storm. They've had a week off, they know how to prepare well and they've had two weeks to do it with a full strength team. The Sharks are a bit busted with Wade Graham out and Paul Gallen in doubt and there will be some sore bodies this week. Storm by 6