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Storm and Sharks prospering well

Tries to Cooper Cronk and Cheyse Blair have earned Melbourne a preliminary-final win over Canberra.
Melbourne and Cronulla baffle opposition fans
Photo Source: AAP

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Prospering quite well, thank you
There was an old saying we heard a lot as children, that 'cheaters never prosper'. It was a way for our parents to teach us that those breaking or bending the rules would be found out eventually and all the rewards would go to those who did the right thing.

Heading into the 2016 grand final, there will be fans of many clubs feeling slightly deflated because they have never cheated the salary cap on an industrial scale like the Melbourne Storm did. There will be fans of many clubs feeling slightly bewildered because they never hired a dodgy sports scientist to oversee an illegal program of supplements like the Cronulla Sharks did.

There will be those who say these two clubs have paid the penalty for their indiscretions and have done exceptionally well to bounce back to the top of the league. This Sunday, as the Storm look to replace another of the premiership trophies removed from their cabinet and the Sharks look to add their first ever, there will be those left scratching their heads over whether that old saying still rings true.

Poor decision in the heat of battle
The Raiders were trailing by two points with just under two minutes left on the clock, and the Storm were doing what they do best, shutting the match down deep inside opposition territory. It was all or nothing for Canberra, their last chance at making their first grand final since 1994.

On the last tackle a Melbourne grubber kick headed deep into the Raiders' in-goal area, with fullback Jack Wighton covering its progress. To most observers it looked to be heading dead, which would have given Canberra a seven-tackle set from their 20-metre line. There wasn't really a Storm player breathing down his neck and Wighton simply had to let the ball go to at least give his side that final opportunity. Instead he took the ball over the dead-ball line, resulting in a goal line drop-out and another six tackles to Melbourne.

If Wighton had let the ball run and a Storm player miraculously raced through to ground it for a try, the game was over. By taking the ball dead, Wighton all but ended his team's chances anyway. It's an easy call from the comfort of the lounge room, but an extremely frustrating moment for Raiders fans.

Another poor fullback display
Last week we were wrong when we wrote that Lachlan Coote would bounce back, suggesting he couldn't possibly play that badly two weeks in a row. We're not sure what has happened to him, but if his confidence was low going into the big preliminary final against the Sharks then it certainly wasn't helped when he dropped the first kick sent his way.

Coote did make a vital grassing tackle on Wade Graham shortly after, saving a try, but then he almost conceded one by letting the ball bounce around dangerously in the in-goal area. He seemed to settle into the match after that, but it was an inauspicious end to an otherwise brilliant season from Coote.

Ugly jumper punching disappointing
The preliminary final between Canberra and Melbourne featured more ugly push-and-shove, jumper-punching altercations than almost any other game this season. At one point it appeared that the referees had completely lost control of what was happening out in the middle.

Raiders reserve Joseph Tapine seemed to be a man on a mission, taking every opportunity in attack or defence to niggle the opposition. We’re not sure whether Ricky Stuart wanted his players to try and upset the Storm players, but surely he of all people would know better than that. Stuart has come up against Craig Bellamy-coached sides enough during his career to know they can't have their composure bashed out of them. It was a bad look and, if anything, they gave away penalties at crucial moments because of it.

Sharks brilliant in opening minutes
Cronulla well and truly earned their spot in the grand final after a brilliant opening 20 minutes of their preliminary final against the reigning premiers. The Cowboys made numerous errors, but it was the controlled bustle of the Sharks that led to the uncharacteristic display.

So dominant were Cronulla in possession and territory that it wasn't until the 30th minute that a North Queensland player was tackled inside the Sharks' 20-metre zone. They did their best to hold out the home side, but eventually the Cowboys' wall had to break. The 14-0 half-time score almost flattered North Queensland, but the 32-6 lead in the 66th minute was more indicative of Cronulla's total dominance. Coach Shane Flanagan and captain Paul Gallen would have been filthy that they conceded the last three tries in soft fashion, but by that stage most had already started singing 'Up Up, Cronulla'. 

What did you make of the preliminary finals? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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