Inspired Storm seal Minor Premiership
A defensive masterclass has seen Melbourne Storm crowned the Minor Premiers of season 2016.
It seemed fitting that the Victorian side, ranked the No.1 defence in the NRL, would seal top spot on the back of their steadfast resistance.
An electric crowd of 24,135 fans filled AAMI Park to witness Storm secure their fifth first-placed finish in 11 years.
The win now sets up a home Qualifying final against the North Queensland Cowboys next week.
Cheyse Blair, a late inclusion into the side, scored a double while Will Chambers and Marika Koroibete tackled like men possesed all night.
It was a brilliant team effort all round and Storm's outside backs helped lead the way, running for a combined 648 metres.
The defence of both sides reigned supreme for the first seven minutes before back-to back penalties handed momentum to the Sharks, the second of which saw James Maloney convert a penalty kick for an early 2-0 lead.
Cameron Smith returned serve with one of his own after 15 minutes and that two points appeared to settle the home side.
Five minutes later that had their first try, coming via the hands of Blake Green who’s cut-out ball found Cheyse Blair, with the centre justifying his late call-up to the side to score under the posts.
Cronulla’s handling errors were halting their ability to generate momentum as Storm controlled field position and were rewarded with another two points as Smith converted his second penalty of the game on the half hour mark.
The visitors did enjoy some good ball late in the first half though and if not for one of the best try saving efforts of the year would almost certainly have scored.
The Sharks had a three on one advantage down the right side but the one stood tall as Marika Koroibete wrapped up Holmes to drag him into touch and send the electric Storm crowd into hysterics.
A 10-2 lead was a pleasing site at half-time and the view was about to get a whole lot better for the purple faithful less than a minute after the restart.
It again came from the Storm right edge as Cameron Munster found Blair and with 10 metres between him and the line, the newly-resigned centre put his head down to overpower the Sharks defence and crash over for his double.
Smith added the points to give his side some breathing space at 16-2.
The Sharks forced their first goal line drop out of the game with 30 minutes to play and spent the next five minutes controlling the ball in Storm territory.
They would come up empty handed though. Will Chambers this time coming up with a brilliant try saving tackle on Sosaia Feki.
Bouyed by yet another stirring defensive effort, the men in purple then marched up field and extended their lead.
It would come off a Cooper Cronk kick in the direction of Suliasi Vunivalu who pounced on the loose bounce to score his 22nd try of the year, the most of any Storm player in a single season.
Gerard Beale snatched a consolation but a late try to Jesse Bromwich ensured the purple faithful ended the game on their feet in a chorus of cheers.
Melbourne Storm 26
Tries: Cheyse Blair 2, Suliasi Vunivalu, Jesse Bromwich
Goals: Cameron Smith 3
Cronulla Sharks 6
Tries: Gerard Beale
Goals: James Maloney