Cronulla end title drought with thrilling victory over Melbourne

Michael Ennis celebrates the Sharks taking back the lead Matt King/Getty Images

Cronulla have ended 50 years of heartache with a thrilling victory over Melbourne in Sunday's NRL grand final, securing the Sharks their maiden premiership.

The Sharks dominated possession and territory but were made to work until the final siren by a champion Melbourne side who were forced into an extreme defensive workload.

A try to Andrew Fifita inside the final 10 minutes put the Sharks back in front, but they were made to endure one final Storm charge on fulltime before they triumphed 14-12.

"I can't tell you how good I feel," Sharks skipper Paul Gallen told Channel Nine.

"I can't believe this, after all the hard work we have put it.

"It is incredible."

The opening exchanges were typically ferocious of the occasion with retiring Sharks hooker Michael Ennis penalised for a high shot in just the second tackle. Storm winger Marika Koroibete squared the ledger a short while later but his swinging arm on Chad Townsend also gifted the Sharks the first chance at points, which James Maloney promptly slotted from the kicking tee.

And it was Maloney who then created the first try-scoring opportunity of the grand final as the five-eighth cut through in midfield and offloaded to Luke Lewis. But the former Penrith stalwart was cut down before the line, his sliding body finishing centimetres short of the opening try.

The Sharks wouldn't have to wait long for a four-pointer however as they earned a repeat set from a Suliasi Vunivalu error and then executed a smart scrum set-play that put Ben Barba over. Breaking from the back of the scrum, Gallen slipped an inside pass to Barba that caught the Storm napping. Maloney added the extras from close range, giving the Sharks an invaluable 8-0 lead.

Unable to get themselves into the game, the Storm looked rudderless in attack with neither Cameron Smith nor Cooper Cronk able to assert themselves on the contest.

A Smith knock-on five minutes out from the break saw the two teams comes together; Ennis slapping the Storm captain on the back immediately after the mistake - an action Jordan McLean objected to my shoving the Cronulla hooker to the deck.

Somehow, the Storm managed to repel the Sharks for the final few minutes of the first half to go into the break down by only eight points. But they had suffered a heavy defensive toll, making an extra 75 tackles than their opponents to halftime.

That trend continued in the early minutes of the second half, too, as the Sharks rumbled out from the sheds and again attacked the Storm line. But they couldn't add to their halftime lead, and the Storm remained in the contest.

The Sharks soon paid the price for their inability to capitalise on a huge share of possession and territory as Jesse Bromwich rumbled over from close range to open Melbourne's account. In what was their first real attack on the Sharks' line, the Storm kept it simple and Bromwich's massive frame was too big to stop from close range. Smith made no mistake with the conversion and, somehow, the Storm trailed 8-6 after 51 minutes.

But the 2012 champions continued to find themselves under the pump as the Sharks surged down field set after set, yet couldn't find a way to extend their lead as the game entered its final quarter.

And then Cronulla found themselves behind.

Having absorbed so much pressure, it was tough to think how the Storm had the energy to attack at all. But it certainly wasn't an issue for centre Will Chambers who scored a try worthy of the decider as he broke free of two defenders and then cut back inside to dive over. Smith again nailed the conversion from the right of the posts to give the Storm a 12-8 lead with 15 minutes to play.

The drama was always going to continue and a large portion of the 83, 625 fans on hand were soon out of their seats as Fifita put the Sharks back in front. The prop, a constant talking point throughout the finals, proved too powerful for a trio of Storm defenders as he wrestled his way to the line and then produced an outstretched right arm to get the ball down underneath the posts. Maloney's conversion was good, and it was the Sharks leading 14-12 with 10 minutes to play.

The final few minutes produced some great drama, before the Storm's final surge fell agonisingly short.

Skipper Cameron Smith was the Storm's best, making 72 tackles.

"We weren't that good in the first half, we allowed Cronulla to have so much field position," Smith said.

"This team, they're a special footy side. You have to give them credit for coming back when they did. They kept plugging away, they didn't panic and deserved the win.

"Unfortunately it didn't go our way. It was a great finish.

"We could have scored in the last 10 seconds, a great scrambling effort by the Sharkies, everyone who follows rugby league have got to be happy for the Sharks. They've been waiting a very long time for this."