Sharks cement top spot with rare NRL win in Melbourne

Melissa Woods |

The Sharks have snapped a losing streak in Melbourne and gone top of the NRL ladder.
The Sharks have snapped a losing streak in Melbourne and gone top of the NRL ladder.

Cronulla have made a statement about their title credentials, cementing their spot on top of the NRL ladder with a rousing 25-18 victory over Melbourne.

Emerging from the top-of-the-table battle at AAMI Park on Saturday night with two points, the Sharks silenced critics who claimed they didn’t deserve their lofty position due to a favourable draw.

The clash with Melbourne was their first against a top-four outfit this season but Cronulla proved they are the real deal, earning the win without their chief playmaker Nicho Hynes (calf), who was a late withdrawal.

Delighted Cronulla coach Craig Fitzgibbon said his side didn’t feel they had anything to prove at this stage in the competition.

“It’s round 10 and we’re just working on getting better,” he said.

“There’s some elite teams who have been up for a long time. We’re working on getting better and there’s so much more to come between now and the end of the season.

“Honestly, the amount of talk around it, I find it amazing – we’re not walking around thinking we’ve won premierships and we’ve got the right to carry on and get ahead of ourselves.

“Those teams have been there and know what it’s about and we’re trying to figure that out on the fly.”

The teams were locked at 18-18 until a 73rd-minute field goal by young playmaker Daniel Atkinson. 

The Sharks sealed the result a minute later when Ronaldo Mulitalo collected Cameron Munster’s restart and, after a 40-metre break, off-loaded for a charging Siosifa Talakai to go over for a try.

Cronulla’s victory ended a run of five straight losses to Melbourne and also stopped the Storm from levelling a record of 15 successive home victories.

A turning point came four minutes before halftime when Storm skipper Harry Grant was controversially sin-binned and the Sharks scored in the next play.

As Grant ran past he made light contact with the leg of Sharks five-eighth Atkinson at the end of his kicking action.

The Storm hooker looked gob-smacked when referee Grant Atkins sent him to the bin for 10 minutes saying: “There’s a duty of care, there’s a dangerous action”.

Harry Grant of the Storm is sent to the sin bin.
Harry Grant of the Storm is put on report and sent to the sin bin. (Joel Carrett/AAP PHOTOS)

In the next minute, the Sharks were in for their second try with prop Oregon Kaufusi charging over right where Grant would have defended, with Atkinson adding the extras for a 12-12 scoreline at halftime.

Storm coach Craig Bellamy was incensed by the decision and said the NRL had laid down a new marker.

“With any rules all we’ve got is consistency so that’s the mark now,” the coach said.

“You touch his leg, doesn’t matter how hard, and you go to the bin.”

Bellamy didn’t blame the sin bin for the loss, saying he felt the Sharks showed they wanted the win more than his side, who missed strike weapons Ryan Papenhuyzen and Xavier Coates.

Jesse Ramien continued to press for a NSW State of Origin call-up when the centre used his power to steam-roll over and put his team ahead in the second half.

Covering for injured Melbourne halfback Jahrome Hughes, Tyran Wishart tied the match up again when he ran on to a Munster ball in the 68th minute.

With just five NRL matches to his name, including one game with Melbourne, 23-year-old Atkinson showed his class to edge his team ahead with the field goal before the Sharks wrapped up a memorable win.