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Storm win NRL minor premiership

AAP logoAAP 3/09/2016 By Melissa Woods

Melbourne have outgunned Cronulla 26-6 to win the NRL minor premiership and set up a qualifying final against defending premiers North Queensland.

With the two top teams battling for the JJ Giltinan Shield on Saturday night at AAMI Park, the clinical Storm steamrolled the Sharks to win the trophy for the first time since 2011.

On the back of the loss, the Sharks could fall to third, with Canberra a chance to leapfrog them with a win on Sunday over the Wests Tigers. Regardless of the outcome of the Leichhardt Oval clash, the teams will meet next weekend in the second qualifying final.

The Cowboys earlier cemented fourth spot and a meeting with the Storm at AAMI Park with a 32-16 win over Gold Coast.

While centre Cheyse Blair scored a try in each half, Melbourne's stoic defence was key to their victory, repelling the Sharks' attacking threats to keep them tryless until the 69th minute.

Rugby-bound winger Marika Koroibete showed what a loss he would be to the NRL with some scintillating runs and bone-crunching defence.

Centre Will Chambers, who missed three months with a fractured foot, also looked back to his best, while the Storm pack gave the Sharks no room to move.

Cronulla, aiming for their first minor premiership since 1999, threw everything at Melbourne but never really looked like they were in the hunt.

They suffered a setback in the first half losing two forwards in Chris Heighington (concussion) and Joseph Paulo (knee) as the Storm went up 10-2 at the break.

The Sharks could have further worries with a late hit by hooker Michael Ennis taking out Storm five-eighth Blake Green as he put Blair through for his first try.

Melbourne coach Craig Bellamy said winning the minor premiership was extra special given the torrid injury run his team had gone through during the season.

"It means a fair bit for us," Bellamy said.

"It's a symbol that you've been the best team in this competition for seven months.

"It doesn't mean you're going to be the best for the next month but to finish at the top of the heap of this competition isn't easy to do."

Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan said his team created plenty of opportunities but couldn't finish them off to put pressure on the Storm.

"In the second half, the line breaks were five-three to us so we broke their line a couple of times but balls didn't go to hand and there was an intercept there," Flanagan said.

"We had our opportunities and, if we'd have taken them in the first half, it could have been a different story but typical Storm - they held in there.

"We weren't at our best and they deserved the win."

Flanagan said he believed Heighington would be fit to face the Raiders, while Paulo would be sidelined for a few weeks with medial ligament damage.

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