ON his own website, Cooper Cronk denies being Superman. But last night he even had an ‘S’ on his chest as he pummeled Cronulla during team-mate Cameron Smith’s 250th NRL game.
Cronk’s kicks and passes were responsible for every one of Melbourne’s five first half tries in a 38-6 win at AAMI Park that brought the Sharks’ run of four consecutive victories to a shuddering halt.
Melbourne were sponsored by an upcoming Superman movie for the night and it was if every time Cronk kicked the Steeden, it turned into a ball of Kryotonite. He was finally given a spell by coach Craig Bellamy with 20 minutes left.
Smith was joined by his family on the field at full-time after a wholehearted effort just four days after Origin I. A seagull that distracted him during a conversion attempt just before halftime seemed to be the only blot on the copybook of a memorable night.
“Jeez he put me off, he rattled me, the old seagull,” said Smith.
“But I couldn’t have asked for a better effort from the boys. The win’s a bonus. I was just just hoping for a good performance from the boys, building on what we did against the Roosters a couple of weeks ago.
“The boys looked fresh. They must have enjoyed their week off last week. I’m obviously very proud of the boys effort to get a win in my 250th.”
After leading 28-0 at halftime, the Storm added to their total when Gareth Widdop put in a last-second grubber kick for centre Justin O’Neill to score in the 57th minute.
Less than 60 seconds after the missed conversion attempt, Widdop and Maurice Blair combined to put Billy Slater over and into the top 10 all time premiership tryscorers. With his wife and children looking on on his big night, Smith made it 38-0.
Earlier, The Sharks fumbled and bumbled under Cronk’s kicking barrage on the way to the heavy halftime deficit.
Cronk’s 40-20 put Melbourne in position for the opening touchdown. It was almost a training run from the scrumbase as centre Maurice Blair charged over without and hand being laid on him, Smith converting for 6-0.
At 17 minutes, it was fullback Michael Gordon who spilt Cronk’s bomb. NSW Origin star Ryan Hoffman duly plunged over, video referees Bernard Sutton and Luke Patten confirming defender Andrew Fifita had not been obstructed by Ryan Hinchcliffe.
Smith goaled, the scoreboard ticked over to 12-0 but Cronulla should have scored next.
Sharks winger Sosaia Feki looked to be over for sure but the fast-adjusting Melbourne defence had other ideas, holding him out with some Herculean defence.
Almost according to script, it was Feki who provided the next fumble. The five-game rookie sWiuddpilt another Cronk bomb on his own tryline, with Kevin Proctor crossing for a try which the eyes in the sky again approved. Smith again ticked the scoreboard over, to 18-0.
It was Cronk once more when his grubber kick rebounded off the legs of Sharks captain Wade Graham in the 31st minute. The halfback scooped up his own kick and lobbed a flat pass into the arms of Tohu Harris who scored.
Cronk’s pass to fullback Billy Slater almost provided the fifth Melbourne Storm try. Instead, the home team had to wait a few seconds, five-eighth Gareth Widdop getting his share of the the spoils.
As the halftime break closed in, a seagull did what the Sharks had been unable to – stop Melbourne scoring points from a kick.
In attempting to convert Widdop’s try, Smith was distracted by the bird and ended up missing the shot.
Cronulla started NSW Origin stars Andew Fifita and Luke Lewis from the bench. Before kick-off, coach Shane Flanagan said he had an issue with the grading of suspended captain Paul Gallen’s striking charge from Origin I.
He also called for an inquiry into the impact of representative suspensions on clubs sides. Melbourne’s previous biggest win over the Sharks was 28-0 in 2008.
MELBOURNE 38 (M Blair R Hoffman K Proctor T Harris G Widdop J O’Neill B Slater tries C Smith 5 goals) bt CRONULLA 6 (B Ryan try, T Carney goal) at AAMI Park. Referees: A Klein/C James. Crowd: 16,231.
Filed for: THE AGE