Wednesday 23 August 2017 / 02:57 AM

NRL THURSDAY: CRONK-LESS STORM SNARE GUTSY WIN

STORM 18 d. SHARKS 13 @ Southern Cross Group Stadium

A Cronk-less Melbourne Storm pulled off a courageous win in the Cronulla Sharks’ backyard, despite falling behind their grand final conquerors for the first time with just eight minutes left.

THE MATCH: The opening 10 minutes was a Cameron Smith masterclass. Following the G.O.A.T. hooker’s brilliant 40/20, he put back-rower Felise Kaufusi over for the first try in just the third minute. Soon afterwards, the Storm skipper put his side up 12-0 with a deft pass for rampaging prop Tim Glasby.

Starved of early possession, the Sharks belatedly found some traction and landed on the scoreboard when Luke Lewis scooped up a loose pass and put on some great footwork to dive over in the 27th minute.

The halftime scoreline remained 12-6, but the hosts needed only nine minutes of the second stanza to trim the deficit further as Sosai Feki crossed in the corner for his eighth try of 2017.

Cronulla dominated territory and possession throughout the half, but was forced to settle for a levelling penalty goal in the 62nd minute, before James Maloney snapped a go-ahead field goal 10 minutes later.

The Storm gambled on a short kick-off and came up trumps, however, and a couple of rucks later Billy Slater put Kaufusi through a gaping hole and on a 15-metre run to the try-line. The Sharks peppered the Storm line in the dying seconds, but Maloney’s cross-field kick agonisingly went over the dead-ball line, allowing the visitors to hang on for one of the season’s gutsiest victories.

THE MAN: Second-rower Kaufusi has been one of the season’s big improvers, developing into an 80-minute player and assuming Kevin Proctor’s role as a damaging right-edge ball-runner. His tally of 33 tackles included several key efforts to shut down the Sharks’ dangerous left-side attack. The Auckland-born 25-year-old has now scored six tries in his past seven games to emerge as a potential bolter for Queensland’s Game 2 squad.

THE MOMENT: Melbourne had just two tackles inside the Cronulla 20-metre area in the second half, and perhaps the Sharks expected the tackle-weary Storm to set for an equalising field goal in the latter stages. But Billy Slater had other ideas, showing his ball-playing class to lay on Kaufusi’s match-winner. The champion fullback overplayed his hand at times in a patchy performance, but his big play in the clutch should have confirmed to Kevin Walters and co. that he is a must-pick for the Maroons’ June 21 assignment in Sydney.

[YouTube – NRL Hub]

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Will Evans

CBS’s Editor-in-Chief and lead rugby league, union and cricket writer, Will is a Christchurch-based freelancer, also writing for Big League and Rugby League Review magazines, and The New Daily website. Will has written four rugby league books.

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