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Five talking points from the NRL grand final

This weekend's a grand final rematch. (AAP Image/Craig Golding)
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2nd October, 2016
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What a game.

The Cronulla Sharks have won the 2016 NRL grand final 14-12 over the Melbourne Storm, and the Shire couldn’t be happier about it.

All the wash-up from the NRL grand final:
» LORD: Gallen leads Sharks into history books
» PRICHARD: 13 extra seconds, but the Sharks did it
» Ten best tweets from the match
» Sharks player ratings
» Storm player ratings
» Match report: Sharks’ wait over
» Re-live the match with our live blog

There’s no doubt a little bit of syrup will flow for the success-starved fans in the South of Sydney tonight. Who could begrudge them?

Here are my five talking points from a monumental grand final.

Sheer Shark dominance

The first half felt like there was only one team playing.

All the metres, all the football, all the repeat sets were going the Sharks’ way. It’s a complete marvel they didn’t stack on 20 points, but put it down to some great desperation from the Storm, and a little bit of absence of execution on the other side.

Matt Prior, Andrew Fifita, Wade Graham and Luke Lewis were terrific for the first 20 minutes, and when Jason Bukuya and his fellow reserves came on they kept up the energy in the trenches.

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It was a rare moment where a team was able to simply play through the Storm. The plan was simple but effective, and it rattled the out-of-towners. Not many sides would be game enough to play as the Sharks did, but it’s even more impressive that they executed it.

Melbourne don’t fire a shot… but then they go bang bang

We didn’t see Melbourne for the first half. It was as simple as that.

Two of the biggest in the game, Jesse Bromwich and Jordan McLean, were confronted with 90 metres to the opposition line every single time they found themselves with the ball in their hands.

Which wasn’t very often, as James Maloney and Michael Ennis forced repeat set after repeat set with their pinpoint kicking game.

And then the Storm were in front.

Two tries, one to McLean and one to Will Chambers, who would have had good claim to the Clive Churchill Medal had the result been different, suddenly saw the Melbourne hit the lead.

Sure, they’d looked gassed, and had done all the tackling, but great teams absorb pressure and heap it back on their opposition.

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They’d done precisely that, and looked like premiers with 15 minutes to play. People could scarcely believe it, as I’ll go into in our final talking point.

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To annoy Cronk, the Sharks must be doing something right

All the talk all week about how Cooper Cronk and Cameron Smith were going to win it with the Storm, being two of the most poised and experienced players in the competition.

Cameron Smith displayed plenty of that tonight, bringing assurance to his side with every touch of the footy.

But Cooper Cronk looked like he was in a rush. At 8-0 down and with plenty of time on the clock in the second half, the Storm had a penalty. Cronk tried to rush a kick into touch.

Cameron Smith came over, took the ball off him, and calmly booted it out. I’m not sure whether words were offered, but it was a message to Cronk and the rest of the team.

“Just settle, we’re still in this game.”

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And they were.

The Sharks ran at Cronk all night, with Wade Graham, in particular, making him a target.

Whether it was that, or his rivalry with James Maloney, or Michael Ennis just generally needling the whole Melbourne side, Cronk was off. His kicking game was off. He wasn’t executing their block plays with any great purpose. He was just a little off.

And that’s a rare thing for Cooper Cronk in any game, let alone one as big as a grand final.

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Ennis signs off in style

Michael Ennis is a grub.

I hate that word.

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Seems lovely off the field, but on it he’s a pest, a menace, a grub; any of those will do, and I’m sure people on the field have offered a few choice adjectives about his behaviour.

One that has never been said about Ennis is that he’s a premiership winner. Until now.

An excellent runner early in his career, Ennis has developed into a worker, a leader and a bastion of creativity through the Sharks’ middle.

He did everything that he’s done all year tonight – tackled, led the team, directed traffic and made a complete nuisance of himself.

From the first 20 giving Cameron Smith a back slap to tick off Jordan McLean, to the final 10 packing down in the Melbourne Storm scrum as they attempted to halt the clock, he was a complete grub.

But a winning grub.

Well done Michael Ennis. The game will be less interesting without you.

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I have no idea how that just happened

71 tackles.

That’s how many Cameron Smith made over 80 minutes of football.

That is unbelievable from one player, verified by my conversations with master NRL statsman Tim Gore.

And thanks to Tim, some statistics for you.

1657 to 1391 metres: Sharks win.

408 to 312 tackles: Sharks win.

Melbourne had 32 sets in possession. That’s a good number. The Sharks had 40. This speaks to the pace of the game, and the fact that both sides completed at 90% speaks to the quality of it.

The Sharks had over 40 tackles in the Storm 20-metre area, yet only came up with 14 points.

This was an astonishing game of football.

How one team can take that much punishment in the possession and territory and only lose by two points is truly remarkable.

How one team can apply so much pressure in one game of football is equally remarkable.

Something didn’t feel right when the Storm hit the front with 20 minutes to play.

But then Andrew Fifita happened. The Sharks won. That felt like the right result.

So congratulations to the Sharks on their first win in half a century, and a huge commendation to the Storm for making it as close as it was.

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