Melbourne have delivered a fitting celebration for skipper Cameron Smith’s 400-game milestone with a thumping 40-16 NRL win over Cronulla at AAMI Park.
The Cronulla Sharks have survived a serious scare from the Penrith Panthers to make their way into a preliminary final against the Melbourne Storm next week.
Heading into halftime at 18-0 up, the Sharks looked as if they were going to skip away with the victory, but a late resurgence from the Panthers brought them back level with just minutes on the clock.
A Chad Townsend field goal would end up saving the day for Cronulla though, putting them back in front by a point with just five minutes to go.
The Panthers then completely lost their way during the final five minutes, trying for a couple of field goals, but never finding themselves in the position to knock one over after a somewhat easy miss from Nathan Cleary with their first attempt.
Still, it was a brilliant comeback from the Panthers to get back into the game after they spent most of the first half defending their own line.
The Sharks ran on three first half tries, with the Panthers defence not in the game early on. They gave away early penalties and errors allowing Cronulla to hit the front.
Townsend had the first, followed up by Valentine Holmes and Luke Lewis. The shell-shocked Panthers finally found themselves some possession and territory at the end of the first half, running on a penalty goal to get on the board.
Penrith had a much better second half. They came flying out of the break, with Cleary getting them on the board after a determined chase of a grubber kick which looked like it was going long.
Isaah Yeo and Waqa Blake then scored within minutes of each other, but that’s where the fun ended for the Panthers as their season comes to an end, the side again struggling during the first half, a trend which has haunted them all season.
The Sharks now move onto play the Melbourne Storm away from home next weekend for a spot in the grand final.
Cronulla Sharks 21
Penrith Panthers 20