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Storm’s six-year streak of top-two finishes under threat after Sharks go on feeding frenzy

Melbourne’s run of finishing in the top two for six straight seasons is under threat after Cronulla sent them spiralling to their second straight loss at Shark Park on Thursday night.

The Sharks out-hustled and outmuscled the Storm from start to finish, romping out to a 20-point half-time advantage on the way to a 28-6 victory which could have major ramifications when the finals equation is resolved at season’s end.

North Queensland have leapfrogged the Storm into second spot while Cronulla are now equal with them on the third rung on the ladder but Melbourne retain a superior for-and-against record.

Craig Bellamy’s team has not finished the regular season anywhere other than first or second since they came fourth in 2015.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - JULY 07: Jesse Ramien of the Sharks scores a try that was then overturned due to dropped in goal during the round 17 NRL match between the Cronulla Sharks and the Melbourne Storm at PointsBet Stadium, on July 07, 2022, in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Jesse Ramien. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Both teams went into the game with some key absentees – Cronulla had Siosifa Talakai out on NSW Origin duty while Nicho Hynes and Toby Rudolf were late withdrawals after testing positive to COVID-19.

The Storm had Cameron Munster and Harry Grant off with the Maroons while Felise Kaufusi is in the United States visiting his sick father.

A Brandon Smith blatant forward pass from dummy-half near halfway was the catalyst for the first two scoring plays of the game. 

Cronulla capitalised on the error by stretching the Storm defence from the subsequent set with centre Jesse Ramien diving over for an unconverted try.

They marched the ball downfield from the restart, resulting in Matt Moylan stepping into space to send Blayne Brailey over for a 10-0 advantage inside 15 minutes. 

Ramien botched a chance to put the Sharks further in front in the 25th minute when he fumbled a put-down over the line in a Dean Ieremia tackle. 

After a Briton Nikora bust down the right, the Sharks swung the ball left and Moylan’s grabber was scooped up at speed by Ronaldo Mulitalo to make it 16-0 five minutes out from the break. 

Next up it was a Connor Tracey break down the left and Cronulla sent the ball to the right with Sione Katoa kicking ahead for Ramien to this time make no mistake when he won the race to pounce just before the dead-ball line. 

It was the second week in a row that the Storm had conceded four tries inside the first half, taking a 20-0 deficit into the sheds where Bellamy’s reception would be even harder to take than the scoreline. 

Melbourne lost winger Grant Anderson to an elbow injury 10 minutes into the second half, capping off a rough night for the rookie, who was forced off for an HIA early in the match.

Smith’s unhappy night continued in the 58th minute when he was sin-binned for verbally abusing referee Adam Gee and then copped a spray from Sharks fans as he made his way up the tunnel. Smith turned to return serve at the spectators giving him a gobful before trudging back to the sheds.

Bellamy was stunned. The TV cameras cut to the coaches box and the normally animated coach stared into space with his mouth agape for several seconds.

Smith told Channel 9 in a sideline interview after full-time that he deserved to be marched for what he had said to the referee and was not looking forward to hearing what Bellamy had to think about his costly faux pas.

Sharks prop Braden Hamlin-Uele was placed on report for a huge hit on Storm back-rower Chris Lewis a short time later before they made the most of their extra man in the 68th minute to seal the win.

Quick hands from Trindall and fullback Will Kennedy presented Ramien with a two-on-one opportunity and he sent Katoa over untouched.

Kenny Bromwich tumbled to the turf after an awkward tackle with 10 minutes remaining, suffering an ankle problem which forced him off in a hip-drop tackle from Nikora which could attract the attention of the match review committee.

Storm fullback Ryan Papenhuyzen looked to be favouring his troublesome right knee late in the contest as well to rub even further injury into the insult of defeat but he managed to cut through to score a try which was then denied by the bunker, summing up the visiting team’s fortunes for the night.

Ramien completed his treble of tries in the 76th minute when he barged through some backpedalling defence close to the line.

Sharks veteran Andrew Fifita was binned three minutes from time when he flipped Smith onto his head in a three-man tackle and bench forward Alec MacDonald crashed over next to the posts to ensure the Storm did not leave empty handed.

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