The NRL Wrap: Finals Week 3

Maloney on the money
James Maloney led Cronulla Sharks to the grand final next Sunday, as they dethroned the reigning premiers North Queensland Cowboys in a 32-20 victory. The New South Wales halfback, who won the competition with his former club Sydney Roosters in 2013, controlled the game and came up with some crucial plays along with Chad Townsend to stun the Cowboys. Early on in the contest they piled pressure on their opponent’s line, with Andrew Fifita and Townsend being denied by the bunker, before a Maloney penalty was followed by Sosaia Feki diving over in the corner. The 90-minute epic between the visitors and Brisbane Broncos a week earlier seemed to be taking its toll, and Maloney’s break and forward-looking pass to Townsend made it 14-0 at the break. The Queenslanders needed a response and got one two minutes into the second period, with Lachlan Coote coming up with a one-on-one steal before crashing over. Luke Lewis replied from Townsend’s flat pass, and when Maloney muscled his way over under the attention of three defenders the game looked over at 26-6. Desperate for a way back into the game the Cowboys retrieved possession from a short kick-off, but that man Maloney popped up with an intercept to race home and send the Sharks fans into euphoria. A late double from Kyle Feldt and a Coen Hess try were too little too late and prove to be nothing more than consolations, as the defending champions were soundly beaten.

Storm grind it out

Melbourne Storm booked their place in the NRL grand final with a 14-12 win over Canberra Raiders in a thrilling encounter at AAMI Park. The game was hanging in the balance until the final minute, but Cameron Smith’s brilliant game management forced back-to-back drop-outs to see the game out. It was an even start, which led to Smith adding an early penalty goal, before Elliot Whitehead’s cut-out ball found Jordan Rapana who reached out and found the line. Cooper Cronk marked his 300th NRL appearance with a try, taking on the line and crashing over to give the hosts and 8-6 half-time advantage. The first 20 of the second period saw both sides probing for a breakthrough, before Marika Koroibete raced down the field with a great break from a kick return. Jack Wighton hauled him down and held on too long as he was sent to the sin bin, and from the resulting penalty a double pump from Cameron Munster put Cheyse Blair through a hole to give them a six-point lead. Josh Hodgson then gave away a poor penalty bang in front, which Smith dispatched, as the Raiders looked to run the clock down before Wighton returned. With the fullback on the field again they had a golden opportunity, as he fired a cut-out ball to Edrick Lee, who only had to catch the ball and he was in, but the wide man came up with a dead drop. With four minutes left on the clock a frantic last tackle play saw Hodgson break the line, before the ball found its way to makeshift winger Whitehead to dive over in the corner. Aidan Sezer’s touchline conversion cut the deficit to two, but Canberra couldn’t find another score as Storm saw out the contest and booked a date with Cronulla Sharks next Sunday. 

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