Sharks win first title in 50 years
THE Cronulla Sharks held off a furious finish from Melbourne Storm to finally end their 49-year title hunt with a gripping 14-12 win in the National Rugby League grand final in Sydney yesterday.
The Sharks, playing in their fourth premiership decider, led 8-0 at halftime only to trail Storm 12-8 with 15 minutes left.
But powerful prop Andrew Fifita crashed over for the winning converted try to lead by two points with 11 minutes left.
Cronulla withstood a storming finish from Melbourne to defend their try-line in a pulsating finish to send the Sharks fans wild in the near 84,000 capacity crowd.
It capped an emotional victory for the Sharks, who were wooden spooners in 2014, the same year in which 10 past and present players from the club served 12-month doping bans over a supplements scandal.
The decider at Sydney’s ANZ Stadium proved a tear-filled farewell for 281-game, one-club skipper Paul Gallen and veteran hooker Michael Ennis, who announced their retirements from the game.
“I can’t tell you how good I feel,” Gallen said. “I can’t believe this after all the hard work we have put in. It is incredible.”
Cronulla back-rower Luke Lewis won the Clive Churchill Medal as the player of the grand final.
Cronulla, based in Sydney’s south, endured grand final heartbreak in losing the 1973 and 1978 deciders to Manly and missing out to the Brisbane Broncos in the 1997 final of the breakaway Super League, which merged into the current NRL.
The Sharks bossed the opening 40 minutes with a lively attack and swarming defence.
They grabbed the only try of the rugged opening half with a planned move off a scrum win with Gallen turning the ball inside to fullback Ben Barba to scamper through.
James Maloney landed the conversion and a penalty goal to give the Sharks an 8-0 lead at half-time.
There were some explosive early moments with Sharks hooker Ennis putting a high shot on Jordan McLean and Storm winger Marika Koroibete stunning Chad Townsend with a high hit and going on the referee’s report.
The Sharks knocked the normally efficient Storm out of their customary playing rhythm with their enthusiastic play.
But Storm fought back with converted tries to prop Jesse Bromwich and Will Chambers to hit the front only for interchange forward Christian Welch to concede a penalty for a high tackle to give the Sharks a set of six tackles deep in Storm territory.
Cronulla made Melbourne pay with Fifita carrying three defenders over the try-line and wrestling his arm clear to claim the winning try.
“To score the winning try is incredible. I don’t know where it came from. I was just rolling,” Fifita said.
Storm threw everything at Cronulla in the final frenetic moments and almost pulled off the winning try, with Chambers not passing to an unmarked Cooper Cronk close to the try-line the standout moment.
Melbourne were bidding for their third title after having their 2007 and 2009 titles stripped after a player salary cap scandal in 2010. –
The Cronulla Sharks celebrate their first National Rugby League title yesterday in Sydney.