Cronulla failed in their bid to spoil Cameron Smith's party as Melbourne downed the Sharks 40-16 on Saturday night.
The story of the night was Smith, who became the first player to reach 400 first grade games. A lavish pre-match ceremony greeted the players in front of a full house at AAMI Park as Smith's career was celebrated in front of his family, friends and past teammates.
Cronulla were always going to do it tough against the Storm on the back of an incredible three-match losing streak where they had scored more tries than their opponents in each of the three games.
The Sharks were also without a handful of stars. Captain Paul Gallen and Matt Moylan were missing with gluteal and hamstring injuries suffered in last week's loss to Brisbane, while Wade Graham is expected to miss at least a month with his hamstring strain picked up in the State of Origin decider.
The absences saw coach John Morris shift Josh Dugan to fullback. But they were to lose Dugan to a knee injury midway through the first half, forcing Josh Morris to take on the fullback role.
But it appears the fullback position at Cronulla is cursed, with Morris forced off after a head clash in the second half, with young gun Bronson Xerri their third fullback of the night.
The question was always going to be whether the undermanned Sharks were simply going to be part of Smith's evening, providing the opposition as the NRL and Melbourne celebrated a great career. Or could they play the role of unwanted party guests who would ruin the night.
It looked to be the former when Cameron Munster scored after just three minutes. A Smith penalty goal gave Melbourne an 8-0 lead before Cronulla hit back with a try to Aaron Gray in the 11th minute after a slick shift to the left involving Chad Townsend, Shaun Johnson, Dugan and Xerri.
Another two Smith penalty goals extended Melbourne's advantage before Brandon Smith barged over from close range after a classy sleight of hand from Cameron Smith.
Melbourne were in front 18-4 at half-time with Cronulla in danger of being on the wrong end of a drubbing.
But, typical of the Sharks, they fought back with two tries in the first 11 minutes of the second half.
Kurt Capewell and Johnson scored tries down Cronulla's right to reduce the deficit to 18-16 with a half an hour still to play. All of a sudden it was game on.
It was then that Melbourne found another gear. On Cameron Smith's big night, the Storm turned it on in the second half.
Tries to Brodie Croft, Justin Olam, Joe Stimson and a second to Brandon Smith saw Melbourne run away with it, running out 24-point winners to extend their lead to six points at the top of the NRL table.
While the Storm look to be cruising towards the minor premiership, the loss saw Cronulla slip out of the top eight.
The defeat was Cronulla's fourth in a row and, with the Sharks battling a crippling injury list, they will need a big effort to turn things around quickly if they are to play finals football.
Melbourne Storm 40 (Brandon Smith two, Cameron Munster, Brodie Croft, Justin Olam, Joe Stimson tries. Cameron Smith eight goals)
Cronulla Sharks 16 (Aaron Gray, Kurt Capewell, Shaun Johnson tries. Shaun Johnson two goals)
at AAMI Park, Melbourne
Sharks' next three: Warriors (away), Cowboys (home), Rabbitohs (home)