Cronulla barely missed a beat without star halfback Nicho Hynes as Jesse Ramien scored a hat-trick of tries in their 28-6 NRL win over Melbourne at Shark Park.
Hynes and teammate Toby Rudolf were ruled out on Wednesday after testing positive to COVID-19 but their absences mattered little as the Sharks recorded a fourth straight win in front of a 7668-strong crowd on Thursday night.
Stand-in halfback Braydon Trindall was impressive and Andrew Fifita rolled back the years as he started in the front row for the first time in over 12 months.
The victory moves the Sharks level on points with the Storm but they remain in fourth place due to Melbourne’s superior for and against.
“It’s pleasing for the players that came in,” said Sharks coach Craig Fitzgibbon.
“They all fulfilled their roles and we played like a team.
“We got right at it straight off the bat and we knew they’d respond.
“I thought we stuck at the plan and executed a bit better than we had.”
Melbourne looked shorn of ideas with Cameron Munster and Harry Grant on Queensland duty and their cause wasn’t helped when Brandon Smith was sinbinned for dissent towards referee Adam Gee in the second half.
Craig Bellamy’s side have now suffered consecutive defeats for the second time this season and only a late try to Alec MacDonald prevented them from being held to nil.
“I don’t know why he (Smith) would say something, it was nearly our best set, with our play-the-ball speed,” Bellamy said.
“We don’t want our players showing that sort of disrespect to referees and I can say it won’t happen again.”
Cronulla hit the front foot when Trindall set up Ramien for his first try after 12 minutes, with Blayke Brailey going over the line a few sets later.
Melbourne didn’t threaten the Sharks and in one period in the first half they had 15 play-the-balls in Cronulla’s 20-metre zone and still couldn’t crack their defence.
Trindall mopped up a couple of speculative grubberkicks to the in-goal and the Sharks were clearly buoyed by how easily they repelled Melbourne’s clunky attack.
Ronaldo Mulitalo scored off the back of a Moylan grubberkick before Ramien added his second try prior to half-time to give the Sharks a 20-0 lead at the break.
“I thought our effort in the first half was pretty good and their footy was off the charts to be quite honest,” said Bellamy.
“We ran into a hot side with the footy and it was a tough night for us.”
The Storm lost Grant Anderson to an elbow injury and whenever they had the Sharks under pressure they undid their hard work by conceding penalties.
One of those was Smith’s outburst towards Gee which earned him 10 minutes on the sidelines and while the hooker was off Sione Katoa went over in the corner for the Sharks.
Ramien added his third try in the 74th minute before MacDonald crashed over for a consolation try after Fifita had been sinbinned for a dangerous tackle.