The Newsroom wraps up the weekend’s preliminary finals action in which the Sharks and Storm booked places in the 2016 NRL Grand Final.
Fresh Sharks maul the Cowboys
The Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks will compete in a Grand Final for the first time since 1978 after a convincing win over the North Queensland Cowboys. The Sharks, coming off a bye, looked the fresher of the two teams and never relinquished the lead once they got on the board after a torrid opening 15 that left the Cowboys flat-footed.
The Cowboys started on the back foot when fullback Lachlan Coote dropped Cronulla’s first kick of the night in the second minute, piling the pressure on his team. The Sharks created plenty of early chances to score points but were held out by strong defence. Cronulla prop Andrew Fifita appeared to have crossed but was penalised for a double movement, then half-back Chad Townsend was denied. First points were not scored until the 17th minute when Maloney slotted a penalty goal. North Queensland’s line was finally broken after a Fifita hit-up and offload gave Maloney a chance to spread the ball wide to Sosaia Feki, who crossed in the corner.
Despite the Cowboys’ obvious tiredness after the extra time grind of their win over the Broncos last weekend, the score didn’t reflect the dominance of Cronulla until a Maloney line-break and questionable inside ball sent Townsend across under the posts. The conversion by Maloney gave the Sharks a 14-0 lead at the break.
North Queensland briefly showed signs of life when Coote scored soon after the restart and Johnathan Thurston converted, but then fatigue kicked in and the Sharks regained control, dominating the ruck and offloading at will. Luke Lewis scored from a Townsend pass at 53 minutes, followed by a Maloney try three minutes later. A penalty and another Maloney try after a 50-metre dash off an intercept gave Cronulla a 26 point lead with just 14 minutes left. pushing the scoreline to 26-6 with only 22 minutes remaining.
Cronulla, assured of their spot in next week’s Grand Final, switched off in the final 10 minutes to conserve energy, giving North Queensland a chance to salvage some pride and go through the motions of a last-ditch comeback. Winger Kyle Feldt bagged a quick double and Coen Hess scored but the Cowboys’ fate had already been sealed. Sharks won 32-20.
Clinical Storm prevail over plucky Raiders
The Canberra Raiders never gave up, always seeming a chance, but the Melbourne Storm were too composed and clinical, putting an end to the green machine’s fairytale season.
Melbourne took first points with a Cameron Smith penalty goal in the 16th minute but Canberra hit back six minutes later when winger Jordan Rapana fought his way over in the corner, taking the score to 6-2. Storm second-rower Tohu Harris got over the line in the 26th minute but strong Raiders defence held him up and secured a turnover. Five minutes later the Storm attack could no longer be denied as Cooper Cronk broke through a gap to score next to the posts, celebrating his 300th NRL game in style. The teams went in to the break at 8-6.
The game was still in the balance in the 59th minute when a brain explosion from Raiders fullback Jack Wighton changed the balance. Wighton held down Melbourne’s Marika Koroibete for what seemed an eternity, preventing a swift play-the-ball after the winger made a 70-metre break, and was sin-binned for the professional foul.
Melbourne took full advantage while Canberra was down to 12 players, setting up a try for centre Cheyse Blair in the very next set to take the scoreline to 12-6. Cameron Smith blew the opportunity to extend the lead to more than a converted try, but Canberra quickly gave him a chance to make amends, giving away a penalty that extended the lead to eight points.The Raiders will rue some costly errors by winger Edrick Lee, who fumbled several times, most tellingly close to the line when a try in the far corner seemed inevitable. The Raiders rallied late after Wighton’s return, Elliott Whitehead scoring in the 75th minute to giving the Raiders a glimmer of hope, but the damage had been done and the Storm made no mistakes as they closed the game down.Melbourne won 14-12. – Paul Burns
Photo shows Melbourne Storm player Marika Koroibete consoling Edrick Lee as players celebrate in the background – from the NRL’s Facebook page.