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’s off field behaviour has often been brought into question, but his second half try that helped to end the Sharks 49-year premiership drought will likely be his greatest on-field highlight.
As Melbourne led 12-8 with 11 minutes remaining, Fifita wrestled with four Storm defenders on their try line before finally getting his arms free and grounding the ball.
“I am lost for words,” Fifita told Channel Nine.
“To score the winning try is incredible, I don’t know where it came from. I was just rolling.”
Fifita was brilliant in a first half effort that brought over 100m and produced when it mattered most to deliver the Sharks their maiden title.
Fifita was well supported 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 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.”
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 scrumfeed.
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 produced when it mattered most.
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.
“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.”