It's no secret the Sharks have had the wood on a Storm outfit that has had few troubles against other teams, but the premiers have a lot going for them heading into this weekend's preliminary final.
Sharks win an early penalty-fest
It's tough to read a lot into the round four meeting won 14-4 by Cronulla. The 33 penalties awarded (19 to Cronulla and 14 to the Storm) was an NRL record. It came amid the early-season rules crackdown in a game between two teams that like to push the boundaries in the ruck and with the 10 metres more than any other.
Cameron Smith got sin-binned for the first and probably last time in his decorated career and Chad Townsend booted four penalty goals in a match in which the Sharks scored the only try.
Average metres gained per set were poor for both teams, with 30.5 for the Sharks and just 28 for the Storm. There was little to separate the sides in terms of metres, busts, offloads or defence.
Officially a hoodoo as Sharks triumph in Melbourne
The second meeting between the two clubs this year is more illustrative. It came just five weeks ago as opposed to almost six months, the game was likely refereed in a manner more similar to what we can expect this weekend, both sides had had a chance to sort out their structures and the match was also played at AAMI Park, where Friday's game will take place.
The game finished three tries apiece with conversion success and a Townsend field goal all that separated the sides. The Storm had sorted out their discipline (conceding just five penalties all game after the 19 in round four) and the game was more free-flowing, with average set distances of 40.4 for the home side and a lofty 48.2 for Cronulla.
Ball security was an issue for both teams, with 10 incomplete sets apiece, but otherwise there was little to separate them in terms of defence, offloads or the kicking games.
Sharks with the overall edge
The combined stats from the two matches show a narrow advantage to Cronulla. The Sharks notched slightly better averages per game in run metres and kick metres.
Their three try saves (one in round four, two in round 22) compared to just one for the Storm proved critical, especially in the tight second contest.
They also busted a few more tackles and made slightly more ground per set.
The Storm made one more line break despite Cronulla winning both games and scoring one extra try and the Storm also had a better effective tackle percentage.
Recent history also favours Cronulla
And back to that head-to-head record, with Cronulla truly entering 'bogey team' territory for the Storm. Other than winning both encounters this year, they have won five of the past seven meetings overall, including in their past two visits to AAMI Park, and the previous finals meeting. That, of course, was the big one – the 2016 grand final, earning Cronulla their first premiership.
There was only one previous finals meeting, with the Storm dominating the 2008 preliminary final 28-0.
In the past 10 seasons, the Storm have six times finished in the top four and won their first finals game to earn the week off. On two of those six occasions (2011 against the Warriors and 2015 against the Cowboys) they lost their preliminary final while in the other four (2009 v Brisbane, 2012 v Manly, 2016 v Canberra and 2017 v Brisbane) they won their way through to the season decider.
The Storm won't be concerned about the recent head-to-head record but there is no question that the Sharks will also be undaunted about facing the Storm in Melbourne despite the latter's week off.
Match: Storm v Sharks
Finals Week 3 -
Venue: AAMI Park
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