Rugby league’s most polarising figure Andrew Fifita has ended 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 then he 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 on Sunday 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.
“I am lost for words,” Fifita told Channel Nine after the game.
“To score the winning try is incredible, I don’t know where it came from. I was just rolling.”
Fifita was well supported in the grand final by James Maloney and Luke Lewis, who was controversially awarded the Clive Churchill Medal as man of the match.
Sharks skipper Paul Gallen set a record for the most games played, 279, for a premiership win.
“I thought I was going to pass out at the end there,” he said.
“We wanted it more, that was what it boiled down to.”
A ninth-minute penalty goal from Maloney opened the scoring before Gallen sent Ben Barba over for the decider’s first try in the 15th minute after a nicely worked scrum feed.
The Sharks enjoyed a majority of possession in the first half but couldn’t convert that into a big lead due to the Storm’s incredible defence.
Jesse Bromich finally put the Storm on the board with a try in the 50th minute, before Will Chambers crossed out wide to put the minor premiers ahead in the 64th minute.
Fifita, who made headlines earlier this year for his support of convicted killer Kieran Loveridge, then delivered what would be the premiership-winning try.
But the Sharks weren’t home yet.
Suliasi Vunivali ignored an unmarked Cooper Cronk with two minutes to go before Ricky Leutele killed the Storm’s final attacking play by tackling Marika Koroibete just short of the Sharks line as the fulltime siren sounded.
Skipper Cameron Smith was the Storm’s best, making 72 tackles, with Jesse Bromwich and Koroibete also putting in big efforts.
“They got the jump on us early and we didn’t get into the game,” Storm coach Craig Bellamy said.
“There are a lot of emotions swirling around right now but disappointment is the overriding one.
“We didn’t defend as well as we could have or should have in the first half and that sucked a lot of juice out of us.”