Surely the Cronulla Sharks were no chance against the clinical Melbourne Storm without the services of Wade Graham, Matt Moylan, Shaun Johnson and Aaron Woods?
The average NRL punter would have been excused for writing off Cronulla’s chances, and when Matt Prior reeled away from the opening tackle of the match with an injured shoulder, the Sharks’ night appeared done.
Cue the relentless efficiency of the Storm and a grinding victory on a rare wet night in season 2019.
What followed was a brave and resilient effort from Cronulla, one that took the Storm to the brink and kept them there.
After a quick start by the visitors, a strange quirk of fate saw Sione Katoa cross the line in the seventh minute to set up a 6-0 lead for the Sharks.
However, the quiet and methodical processes of the Storm followed. Tries to Josh Addo-Carr and Jesse Bromwich built a 12-6 lead for Craig Bellamy’s men after 22 minutes.
The Sharks scored late in the first half when Briton Nikora crossed and the conversion sent the teams to the sheds at 12-all.
Logic suggested the Storm would cop a mouthful from their mentor at the break and emerge from the rooms breathing fire.
No such luck for the Mexicans, as the Sharks found an early penalty goal, before a 54th-minute converted try to Braden Uele had the home side in front by 20-12.
Could it really be happening? No way! The Storm would surely settle and grind out a win off the back of the game management of the Camerons, Smith and Munster.
Not tonight, as the Sharks held on, despite a late converted try to Ryan Papenhuyzen that scared the heck out of the Sharks’ home crowd.
Even a late penalty that presented the Storm with a chance of victory at the eleventh hour wasn’t enough and the Cronulla faithful sang their team song with a gusto similar to that of 2016 after their 20-18 win.
The Storm look a little fragile after a loss against the undermanned Sharks and significant scares against the Warriors and Bulldogs in recent weeks.
Could it be that Cameron Smith is indeed nearing the end?
Are the Storm a spent force?
Has the Bellamy magic worn off?
Pffftttt, no chance.
Earlier in the evening, the North Queensland Cowboys jumped the Gold Coast Titans on the back of a stunning first-half effort from the returning Jason Taumalolo.
After a month of frustration, the NRL’s best and most valuable player ran for in excess of 120 metres, scored a try and slipped seamlessly back into his groove during the first 40 minutes in Townsville.
The victims were an unlucky Titans side that crossed the line multiple times in the first half, only to be denied by technicalities, errors and quite frankly an atrocious decision that robbed them of a fair try to Tyrone Peachey.
Phillip Sami was adjudged to have interfered with the chase of Jake Granville after AJ Brimson had sent Peachey on an open run to the line.
In reality, first contact had been made by Granville as he reached across the Titans’ winger and even after the on-field decision of try, the belligerent bunker managed to muck up another important decision.
The 16-4 half-time score was somewhat misleading after the numerous penalties awarded to the Cowboys in attacking position had logically led to points.
The rugby league gods kicked in early in the second half and the Titans clawed their way back into the contest with tries to Kevin Proctor and Anthony Don.
Inaccurate conversions were the difference when the Cowboys held a slender 16-14 lead with 20 minutes remaining on the clock.
Injuries to Michael Gordon, Phillip Sami and Tyrone Roberts had the Titans on the ropes and the Cowboys took the initiative as the visitors fatigued.
A stunning try to John Asiata from his clever kick and Ben Hampton’s return pass was the stuff of genius.
Soon after, Justin O’Neill scored the final try of the match as he sliced through the left-edge defence of the Titans and Jordan Kahu’s conversion completed a 28-14 victory for the home side.
It was an encouraging and much needed two points for the Cowboys.
The Titans head back to the Gold Coast well aware that the bottom rung of the ladder awaits for them on Sunday night, should results go against them over the weekend.