Melbourne gained some revenge for their grand final defeat in October with a thrilling 18-13 win over Cronulla on Thursday night.
The premiers trailed for most of the game before finally hitting the lead with seven minutes remaining at Southern Cross Group Stadium thanks to a James Maloney field goal.
But Felise Kaufusi’s second try of the night a minute later iced the game for the Storm as the league leaders made a statement to the rest of the NRL, defeating the reigning champions away from home without star halfback Cooper Cronk.
Storm coach Craig Bellamy’s decision to rest Cronk after a grueling State of Origin week looked a good one thanks to a sleepy start from Cronulla which saw them trail 12-0 after just seven minutes.
A Cameron Smith 40/20 in the second minute gave Melbourne field position and from the ensuing set Kaufusi barged over from close range.
The Storm struck again five minutes later on the back of a penalty. Tim Glasby got himself one-on-one with Jayden Brailey and managed to crash over the line to double the advantage.
Melbourne could have been further in front midway through the half only for Brailey to produce a try-saving tackle on Cameron Munster. The Storm five-eighth scooped up a loose pass on his own line before streaking downfield, only for the young Sharks hooker to get across in cover.
Kaufusi could have had a second try shortly after only for the video referee to chalk it off for a Suliasi Vunivalu knock on in the lead up.
The Sharks were finally able to get a foothold in the game 13 minutes before the break. Maloney scooped up a Billy Slater error before running 50 metres. Vunivalu was penalised for his involvement in the tackle which led to a push-and-shove.
Luke Lewis charged between three Storm defenders from the next set to halve the deficit.
Cronulla were right back in the game 10 minutes after the break when Sosaia Feki slid over in the corner from a slick left-side raid.
Josh Addo-Carr then blew a golden chance to extend Melbourne’s lead 10 minutes later after he reached a Will Chambers grubber first, only to knock the ball on in-goal.
Cronulla drew level thanks to a Maloney penalty goal with 17 minutes remaining after mounting consistent pressure on Melbourne’s line.
Addo-Carr had another chance when he fielded a Chad Townsend kick on his own line and raced downfield. This time it was Valentine Holmes who made ground on the Storm flyer to make a try-saving tackle.
Munster then failed to put Melbourne in front with a field goal attempt, spraying the shot wide despite being virtually unchallenged.
Maloney wouldn’t make the same mistake, putting Cronulla in front for the first time with seven minutes left with a snap field goal from right in front of the posts after a Matt Prior offload.
But the lead lasted less than a minute, as Melbourne won the ball from a short restart. Slater then put Kaufusi between Wade Graham and Ricky Leutele with a quality short pass, with the back-rower running 20m untouched to score his second try of the night and restore Melbourne’s lead.
Melbourne weathered one final Cronulla storm to hold on for a five-point victory and extend their lead at the top of the table to four points.
Melbourne Storm 18 (Felise Kaufusi two, Tim Glasby tries. Cameron Smith three goals)
Cronulla Sharks 13 (Luke Lewis, Sosaia Feki tries. James Maloney two goals. James Maloney field goal)
at Southern Cross Group Stadium
Leader man of the match: Cameron Smith (Storm)
Sharks’ next three: Tigers (home), Sea Eagles (home), Roosters (away)