David Skipwith is the Herald's rugby league reporter

David Skipwith: Up, up, Cronulla - Sharks can hook title

Cronulla playmaker James Maloney is a major threat for the Sharks. Photo / Getty Images
Cronulla playmaker James Maloney is a major threat for the Sharks. Photo / Getty Images

I have always enjoyed a good fairytale so I'm hoping Cronulla can defy history and claim their first premiership win in Sunday's NRL grand final against Melbourne in Sydney.

If Warriors fans think they've had it tough after going 21 seasons without a title, spare a thought for long-suffering Sharks fans who have gone 50 years without success.

For the past three months, I have been convinced the Storm were marching towards their second grand final win since 2012 but the weekend's two preliminary finals tell me Cronulla have all the momentum going into the ANZ Stadium showdown.

The benefit of a week's rest was obvious for both teams but the Sharks looked to be on the rise in Friday's 32-20 win over the battle-weary Cowboys, while the Storm looked vulnerable in Saturday night's 14-12 home victory over the injury-affected Canberra Raiders.

The Cowboys posted some late points with three tries but the scoreline did not reflect the Sharks' dominance, while the Storm's right-edge defence of centre Will Chambers and young wing Suliasi Vunivalu were caught out on a couple of occasions with only handling errors preventing them from being further exposed.

Neither side can lay claim to being likeable and usually struggle to find support from neutral fans, with both clubs having been cast as villains of the competition in recent years.

Despite their reputation as the most dominant club of the NRL era, the Storm still remain offside with many supporters following the 2010 salary cap scandal. Similarly, the Sharks reputation has never fully recovered from the 2013 Asada investigation into the club's use of illegal supplements.

Throw in Melbourne's continual association with questionable wrestling tactics and Cronulla's trio of perceived bad guys - Andrew Fifita, Michael Ennis and captain Paul Gallen - and it's clear both outfits struggle for positive PR.

However, a bumper crowd turned out to cheer the Sharks to victory at Allianz Stadium and that support will grow further ensuring they will again be crowd favourites this week.

The Storm are renown big game specialists but both sides contain six players with grand final experience with Chambers, Cooper Cronk, Jesse Bromwich, Cameron Smith, Kevin Proctor and Dale Finucane matched by Cronulla's Ben Barba, James Maloney, Michael Ennis, Matt Prior, Luke Lewis and Chris Heighington.

Both teams know what awaits them, having met most recently in the round 26 minor premiership decider that saw the Storm prevail 26-20 at AAMI Park in Melbourne.

Coach Craig Bellamy has a knack for getting the best out of his side at this time of year, and with halfback Cooper Cronk having joined Storm captain Cameron Smith in the 300 game club, they boast the better and more experienced dummy-half and first-receiver combination.

But while the Storm are masters of tactical play, the Sharks, led by the likes of Gallen, Ennis, Maloney and Lewis are chock full of tough competitors and possess flair in the halves, back-row and outside backs to upset Melbourne's structures.

While Melbourne has set the benchmark over the past decade, and you have to admire their relentless pursuit of excellence, I hope the Sharks can break their duck.

As they say and sing in the Cronulla-Sutherland shire - or "God's Country", which the locals like to call it - up, up, Cronulla!

- NZ Herald

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David Skipwith is the Herald's rugby league reporter

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