Munster masterclass sees Storm over Sharks in a thriller

Cameron Munster produced one of the best individual performances of the season to lead Melbourne Storm to a 34-18 win over Cronulla Sharks at AAMI Park.

The five-eighth stole the show with a try, assist and vital kick-off to start the second half which gave Melbourne a 12-point lead from which they never looked in back.

It was arguably the best game of the year, and certainly the best first half so far, between two teams that will surely feature at the end of the season.

Quality levels barely dropped, and Cronulla more than played its part. They spent an hour with a 100% success rate and asked constant questions about the Storm defense.

Siosafa Talakai and Nicho Hynes were superb, the latter showing both his power and his composure to create chances and seize them.

Amid the action, there was barely time to mention the potential suspension that could befall Cameron McInnes after a poor tackle that left Ryan Papenhuyzen nursing an ankle complaint, or the blow to the head that left saw Dale Finucane fade early.

Both incidents happened at the start of the difficult period that defines the game between the best teams. After 20 minutes, only a Nicho Hynes penalty had troubled the scorers.

It was going to take something special to cross the line. Cameron Munster provided him with a beautifully floating pass that prompted Jesse Ramien and Mawene Hiroti to come on, then blocked them underfoot as he headed towards Nick Meaney.

He couldn’t make it to the corner himself, but found Justin Olam, who could.

If the Storm’s first try was good, the Sharks’ was exceptional. Nicho Hynes curled a kick horizontally onto Cronulla’s own 20m line, knocking Meaney out of play and freeing Ramien.

Cronulla kept him alive until the end of Storm, and when the stampede returned, the Sharks didn’t panic. They methodically passed through the hands to give Siosifa Talakai a jog to the line on the other side of the field.

The Storm fought back with spectacular style. It was another Munster masterclass, showing all the best facets of his game: too strong for Nicho Hynes in the tackle, too smart for Will Kennedy with a dummy and too fast for Toby Rudolf in the backfield.

The pressure came back right away. Three times in a set, the Sharks could have scored: Hiroti could have put Ramien under the sticks, but he was faked and tackled. Xavier Coates then cornered to stop Teig Wilton and after he unloaded on Matt Maylan, Felise Kaufusi somehow got a hold.

It was a breathtaking thing. After another break from the Sharks, Ronaldo Mulitalo kicked behind and was taken down by Ryan Papenhuyzen. With the clock running out at half-time, Nicho Hynes opted to take both – and there was still time for more drama, as he came back from the post and was trailed by the storm.

“It looks like a final game,” Munster told Fox League as the teams walked out at the break, and he wasn’t wrong. Cronulla had finished 100%, made six line breaks and scored one of the season’s tries – and was still trailing 12-8.

From the first kick of the second half, Munster were back in the game. His kick off tricked Talakai and Mulitalo, who stared at each other as the ball went straight into touch. From the first play of the scrum, Jahrome Hughes fed Justin Olam to get through.

It wasn’t done yet. Talakai and Mulitalo redeemed themselves with a combination down the Sharks left that brought them back in a converted try.

Munster had none. He opened the game again, waltzing through Cameron McInnes and, as always, Ryan Papenhuyzen was on the inside to do the rest.

Neither did Cronulla. Again, it’s that magical left edge that has come to the fore. Talakai is known as a tough and active back rower, but showed remarkable lightness of touch to tap out Mulitalo for another.

Hynes – not the best with the boot this year – managed to score from the touchline and it was a six-point game with a quarter of an hour remaining.

Again, it wouldn’t last. On the back of the Sharks’ first mistake of the evening, Harry Grant took a chance from close range and somehow got the ball back on the ground.

Despite the lead, Melbourne was taking no risks. Twice, when they had the chance, they sent the two points to extend the lead and, more importantly, go minutes behind.

They didn’t have to worry. Even with the game secured and two minutes remaining, the Storm managed to build up the excitement to tackle Will Kennedy behind his goal line for a retirement. As cliché as it was, it was the kind of act champion cultures are made of.

Melbourne is one of them, and according to tonight, Cronulla is not far from them.

Sports Grp2

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