It was another classic encounter between two teams who are building a fierce rivalry, with the Storm scoring a 75th minute try to edge out a gallant Sharks side at Southern Cross Group Stadium on Thursday night.
The Sharks grabbed their first lead of the night with seven minutes remaining courtesy of a James Maloney field goal, only to concede the ball from the kick off and ultimately the match-winning try just a couple of tackles later.
Edge of the seat stuff for neutral supporters of the game, disappointing for Sharks fans, it was nonetheless another exciting contest between the 2016 Grand Finalists.
We look at the big moments, the key points to come from the Sharks v Storm clash.
1. Slow starts are a killer
Yes, the Sharks battled back after going behind 12-0 just 10 minutes into the contest, even took the lead with the Maloney field goal seven minutes from time, but had they jumped out of the blocks a bit quicker it may never have come down to the grandstand finish we witnessed.
The Sharks trailed the Bulldogs for most of the night, went to half time 14-0 behind against the Cowboys and were down against the Tigers in round nine before claiming victory.
Against the better teams however and coming into the big games at the end of the year, you can’t give anyone a head start and hope to come back and win. As the coach said post-game, it is something they will definitely need address going forward this season.
2. Storm the ‘ruck’ masters
The newspapers in reporting Shane Flanagan’s post-match comments re ‘referee Cameron Smith’ were somewhat over the top, with the Sharks Coach talking more in praise than criticism of the Storm Captains performance.
As Flanagan explained, more with a smile them a grimace, Smith and his Melbourne teammates controlled the speed of the ruck brilliantly, frustrating the Sharks at times and while the referees did blow several penalties against them, the Storm are well aware the men in the middle can’t and won’t keep blowing the whistle all night.
To their credit the Storm’s line speed was outstanding – some may interpret that as being three steps off-side – and their wrestle continues to set the benchmark.
But the Sharks knew it was coming and despite the slow start and late try, almost managed to come away with the points.
3. The master and the apprentice
Holmes against Slater, master v apprentice, was an intriguing match up.
All eyes were on the pair with speculation continuing in regards to possible Queensland Origin selection and neither disappointed as they showcased their varying strengths and talents.
Slater was his usual lively self, always on the ball and looking to inject himself into the Storm attack, while Holmes similarly did what he always does which was charge back into the line on kick returns and pose a constant threat whenever the ball was in his vicinity.
Val made a classic covering tackle on speedster Addo-Carr, while Billy’s big play came when he slipped the perfect pass to Kaufusi for the match-winning try.
Honours were about shared, just depends on which direction Kevin Walters and the Queensland selectors want to go. Holmes as the future, Slater as the aging, yet still brilliant, Maroons legend.
4. Life in the old legs
It’s been spoken about before, but was again emphasised last night, with Luke Lewis showing age will not weary them as there is still plenty of spring in his step as he approaches his 300th NRL game.
Lewis ran hard, tackled hard, scored a smart try and gave another indication why 2017 doesn’t need to be his last season.
The Sharks veteran carried the ball for 150 metres, made two line breaks, 25 tackles and crossed for the vital first half try, with almost his every involvement having an impact on the match.
Coach Flanagan often says in press interviews nobody checks the age of players once they run out on the field and with Lewis, Paul Gallen and Chris Heighington for the Sharks, Cameron Smith and Billy Slater for the Storm, all well over 30 yet all amongst the best players on the field, and those in the veteran category again displayed there is life left in those old legs.
5. The vocal minority
When they want to be, the Southern Cross Group Stadium faithful can be loud and extremely vocal, as witnessed last night.
While only 7,912 braved a chilly Thursday night, the noise they generated seemed like double the crowd were in attendance, maybe even triple, with some regulars commenting the support to be louder than when over 20,000 were on hand to see the Sharks beat the Bulldogs just two weeks ago.
Thursday nights are difficult for fans, being a work and school night, the late start at 7.50pm doesn’t help either and the fact that the game is shown live on both Channel 9 and Fox makes it easy to curl up on the couch in winter and stay at home.
But for those who were there, they should be applauded as they did more than that in screaming their support and almost getting the Sharks across the line in a thriller.