Craig Bellamy expects Ryan Papenhuyzen to grow in confidence after his hat-trick against the Sharks secured the Storm's fourth minor premiership in six years.
Friday night's 28-16 result at Cbus Super Stadium leaves Cronulla relying on the Titans losing to the Warriors - or winning by fewer than 12 points - on Sunday afternoon to scrape into the finals.
Things looked promising for the Josh Hannay-coached Sharks as they began with vigour and grit to go into half-time locked at 12-all with the Storm, who rested several key players, a touch off the pace.
But a 10-minute burst after the break led to Melbourne posting a pair of tries and kicking clear of their opponents, who scored at the death.
Match: Sharks v Storm
Round 25 -
Venue: Cbus Super Stadium, Gold Coast
The Storm picked up a few minor "bumps and bruises", according to Bellamy, while enforcer Nelson Asofa-Solomona was placed on report for a late hit on young playmaker Luke Metcalf.
Asofa-Solomona has copped four charges already in 2021 and even a grade-one dangerous contact offence could lead to a ban.
Powerhouse centre Justin Olam was also placed on report for tacking Cronulla back-rower Briton Nikora without the ball.
Papenhuyzen turned in his most electric performance since returning from a concussion layoff in round 19, recording 229 metres, two line-breaks, 13 tackle-breaks and safely defusing several kicks.
"He was obviously on the right spot a bit more tonight. Scoring the three tries tells you that," Bellamy said after the match.
"I thought he took some real steps forward, to be quite honest, against the Titans [in round 23]," the coach added.
Bellamy and Finucane accept J.J. Giltinan Shield
"And I hope he won't mind me saying this, but I think he took a few steps backward last week [against the Eels].
"But he was on again tonight and he'll take a lot of confidence out of what he did ... He got a couple of tackles that were real solid, but he got up straight away and it didn't seem to worry him at all."
Bellamy was already looking ahead to a first-week finals match-up - with their opponent either the Roosters or the Sea Eagles - but acknowledged the effort required to clinch the JJ Giltinan Shield.
"That wasn't our main focus; by Sunday everyone's forgotten about who won the minor premiership. But minor premierships are like premierships, they're hard to win," he said.
"We only lost three games this year and usually if you lose three games you'd win a minor premiership pretty easily, history shows.
"But Penrith have had a great year and it's gone right down the wire … It's a real reward for our club, we've been ultra-consistent."
Munster nursing knee injury ahead of finals
Aside from Asofa-Soloma - who Bellamy said told him he "just pushed" Metcalf - Melbourne have a few more big names in doubt.
Bellamy said star winger Josh Addo-Carr was "touch and go" after a hamstring strain last week while rested five-eighth Cameron Munster has a knee issue but is expected to be right to play.
Hooker Brandon Smith and front-rower Tui Kamicamika were given early marks after knocks but Bellamy indicated they were precautionary.
Having sewn up a top-four berth a long way from home, Bellamy suggested the finals series could reignite his side's hunger.
"Perhaps somewhere our experienced players were waiting for the finals, to be quite. But having said that, that might come back and bite me on the arse next week," Bellamy said.
"With all due respect, the last couple of weeks – that's what we've been aiming for [the finals].
Bellamy reflects on another minor premiership
"What we've done at training and what we've done in our and what we've done basically for the last two weeks is to be ready for next week."
Sharks winger Sione Katoa produced a pair of spectacular diving finishes to score a first-half double and counter four-pointers from Melbourne's Brandon Smith and Papenhuyzen.
But Marion Seve barged over in Melbourne's first set of the second term before Papenhuyzen crossed twice more to seal the win.
A late try to Cronulla centre Connor Tracey could end up being crucial for his team with for-and-against potentially getting them to the playoffs.