Rugby league’s most polarising figure Andrew Fifita has helped end rugby league’s longest title drought, leading Cronulla to a 14-12 win over Melbourne in the NRL grand final.
Fifita was brilliant in an extended first-half stint in which he ran for more than 100m and produced when it mattered most in the second half to end the Sharks’ 49-year search for a premiership.
With Melbourne leading 12-8 late into the game after a gutsy fightback built on the back of an incredible defensive effort, Fifita produced an on-field performance at ANZ Stadium for which he will be forever remembered.
The NSW prop wrestled with four Storm defenders on the Melbourne tryline before spinning his arms free and grounding the ball in the 69th minute.
James Maloney converted to give the Sharks a 14-12 lead.
But the game was far from over and the Sharks spent much of the final 10 minutes defending valiantly to secure the club’s first title.
Suliasi Vunivalu ignored an unmarked Cooper Cronk with two minutes to go before Sharks centre Ricky Leutele killed the Storm’s final attacking play when he tackled Marika Koroibete just short of the Sharks line as the fulltime siren sounded.
“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 Sharks’ win comes two years after they claimed the wooden spoon after being rocked by the ASADA scandal.
Fifita made headlines earlier this season due to his support of convicted killer Kieran Loveridge.
“I am lost for words,” Fifita said.
“To score the winning try is incredible, I don’t know where it came from. I was just rolling.”
Cronulla dominated early.
Marika Koroibete hit Chad Townsend with a high tackle in the sixth minute that was put on report and James Maloney kicked the first points of the match via the ensuing penalty.
Six minutes later Cronulla cracked Melbourne’s famed defence as Paul Gallen worked a scrum move from 10m out to put Ben Barba over for an 8-0 lead.
Will Chambers beat Gerard Beale out wide in the 64th minute to put Melbourne ahead for the first time in the game. Cameron Smith converted to give the Storm a 12-8 lead.
The Storm had held the Sharks out time and time again on their own line in the second half, but finally cracked when Fifita crashed over.
Melbourne pressed late but the Sharks held on and secured their fairytale win.