Wade Graham and Luke Lewis after the 2016 NRL grand final.

In front of a sea of blue at ANZ Stadium, the Cronulla Sharks broke the NRL's longest title drought when they claimed the 2016 premiership, the first of their 50-year existence, with a narrow 14-12 victory over the Melbourne Storm.

Everything seemed to be on Cronulla's side in the lead-up to the premiership decider – they weren't burdened by injuries, they had set a club record 15-game winning streak, and they had become accustomed to winning the tight games with 12 wins by 10 points or less. 

But despite the Sharks' seamless lead-up, it was Melbourne who started hot favourites in what was their sixth grand final in 10 years.

From the get-go both sides were out to smash one another – five minutes into the match the Sharks claimed the first points from a James Maloney penalty goal after Storm winger Marika Koroibete put a hit on Cronulla halfback Chad Townsend, which resulted in veteran hooker Michael Ennis running in to start the night's first scuffle between the two sides.

Not even 10 minutes later Maloney found a gap in Melbourne's defensive line and offloaded to Luke Lewis who was held up by Storm five-eighth Blake Green just inches from the white line. The Sharks were soon in, with skipper Paul Gallen turning the ball inside for fullback Ben Barba to go over and take the score to 8-0, where it would remain heading into the half-time break.

Melbourne fought back in the second half with Jesse Bromwich crashing over in the 49th minute and Will Chambers crossing 15 minutes later, with the Storm hitting the front with a 12-8 lead. 

Sharks prop Andrew Fifita refused to let the scoring end there, steamrolling to the try-line in the 68th minute with five Storm defenders on his back to put Cronulla back in front by just two points.

A remarkable scrambling defensive effort from the Sharks, when the Storm were attacking their line in the final minutes and after the final siren, left Cronulla with a well-deserved victory.

Best player

It was a standout year for Sharks second-rower Luke Lewis, and taking home the Clive Churchill Medal was the icing on the cake. The veteran forward played an integral role in the Sharks' go-forward while dominating in the defensive line – cranking out 149 running metres, three tackle breaks and 28 tackles.

However, there was speculation Andrew Fifita was in line for the player of the match award but off-field dramas stopped him from receiving the accolade. Fifita claimed the match-winning try and ranked first across both sides for running metres (201), while finishing second to Michael Ennis for tackles made (35).

The unsung hero

Star fullback Ben Barba was also instrumental not only in Cronulla's grand final win but through the whole of 2016. Starring in 27 matches that year, Barba was at his electric best at the back with 16 tries and 18 try assists, including a crucial four-pointer in the decider. 

Sharks prop Andrew Fifita during the 2016 grand final.
Sharks prop Andrew Fifita during the 2016 grand final. ©Robb Cox./NRL Photos.

The play of the day

Cronulla's scramble defence was without doubt the determining factor of their 14-12 victory. In particular, the effort they displayed in the last play of the match when Melbourne were attacking their line after the full-time siren sounded was crucial in holding onto the win.

The what-if moment

If any of the five Storm men that were on Andrew Fifita's back could've stopped the powerhouse prop from claiming the match-winning try 68th minute, then Melbourne most likely would held out Cronulla for the next 10 minutes and been crowned the 2016 premiers.

The quote

"To all you people back in the Shire, turn your porch lights off because we are coming home with the trophy" – Paul Gallen referring to rugby league coaching great Jack Gibson's famous comment, "waiting for Cronulla to win a premiership is like leaving the porch lamp on for Harold Holt".

Sharks captain Paul Gallen during his grand final speech.
Sharks captain Paul Gallen during his grand final speech. ©Brett Crockford./NRL Photos.

Recollections of a champion

"I had a really good feeling going into the game that we were going to be very hard to beat and to run out in front of 83,000 people with majority of them being Cronulla fans was just mind blowing," Luke Lewis told NRL.com as he reminisced on the 2016 grand final victory.

"A lot of great people played in that black, white and blue jersey so to be a part of the first ever premiership-winning team is something I hold close to my heart and a moment I'll never forget. It was one of the best years of my life.

"I can't explain how solid the camaraderie was in that side. Although I received the Clive Churchill Medal it honestly could've gone to anyone who ran out – as much as I enjoyed getting it I wouldn't have that around my neck if it wasn't for the players that were there that night and throughout the year. Every time I look at it I think of that team and think about how good we all were."

Sharks players celebrate their premiership victory.
Sharks players celebrate their premiership victory. ©Brett Crockford./NRL Photos.

Recollections of a runner-up

"The Ben Barba try off the scrum play, that was the start of what was to come. He was dangerous for them all game – in the middle we were always on our toes," Jesse Bromwich told NRL.com.

"They always say the first grand final loss is hardest to take but I never knew what it meant until it happened to me.

"I was looking around and everyone was shattered, it was heartbreaking.

"It motivated the whole group to get back there and have another crack at it. From the first day of pre-season it was sharper because everyone was focused. We knew we went close, although it was a new group, there was no one short of motivation to get back to where we were and win it."

The year after

Winning back-to-back premierships is unheard of in the modern NRL so it wasn't a huge surprise that the Sharks suffered a grand final hangover. Despite only missing Michael Ennis and Ben Barba from their grand final-winning side, they were unable to find the same continuity they had in 2016 and were knocked out in week one of the finals by the North Queensland Cowboys, 15-14.

The 2016 grand final loss motivated the Storm to come back in 2017 and go one better. Twenty-three wins from 27 starts provides a fitting indication of the consistent high level that Melbourne operated at. And of those four losses two came when the likes of Cameron Smith, Billy Slater, Cooper Cronk, Will Chambers and Tim Glasby were away on Origin duty.