Melbourne Storm coach Craig Bellamy questioned his side’s hunger after it passed up a chance to return to the top of the NRL ladder on Sunday.
In a rematch of the 2016 grand final, Cronulla edged Storm 17-14 in an entertaining clash at AAMI Park that leaves the race for top spot – and the top four – wide open with just three rounds remaining.
It seems no club actually wants to finish first, given the fact top spot changes hands almost weekly and Round 22 was no different, with Sydney Roosters replacing South Sydney at the summit.
It could have been Storm, though, only for a second consecutive defeat following a run of eight straight wins.
Bellamy did not pull any punches in his post-match assessment, acknowledging that it “looks as though we lack a bit of a hunger at the moment”.
“We need to decide where we are going for the rest of this year and put some actions to it,” he said.
That whack was backed up by Storm captain Cameron Smith, who said: “Today we had the opportunity to play well and win, but we didn’t want to take it.”
“At half-time, we had a 61 per cent completion rate.
“We need to get our heads around that. We are a good football side when we hold the ball.”
Storm’s defeat was soured by a hamstring injury that may have ended Ryan Hoffman’s career.
The 34-year-old, who will retire at the end of the season, needed crutches to walk following the match.
“He’s in tears in the dressing room,” Bellamy said.
“He has been a wonderful player for our club. I’m not too sure he will play again, to be quite honest … they [medical staff] are thinking it’s a really major injury.”
The Sharks led 13-4 at half-time after early tries from Jayden Brailey and Valentine Holmes and Storm never got back in front, despite Suliasi Vunivalu’s double.
Storm now sits third – one match behind the Roosters and Rabbitohs – and only points differential ahead of Penrith Panthers.
Earlier on Sunday, Wests Tigers kept their finals hopes alive with a 22-20 win over Canberra Raiders.
The future of Tigers coach Ivan Cleary had been a major talking point throughout the week after he had been linked to the now-vacant post at Penrith.
But Cleary, who has committed to the Tigers for 2019, watched his side start strongly as Malakai Watene-Zelezniak, Moses Mbye and Michael Chee Kam all crossed for tries in the first 17 minutes for the Tigers.
The Raiders came storming back into contention, largely thanks to Joseph Tapine’s double. But after getting within two points following a 65th-minute conversion from Sam Williams, they ran out of steam and creativity.
And that gave Cleary reason to smile before a press conference in which the obvious questions were always coming.
“I’m not going to talk about it,” Cleary said initially of his future.
He was then quizzed about “misinformation” he referenced in a statement on Saturday, but only added: “I’m sure you can find the misinformation.
“I’m not going to talk about it … I said my position,” he added.
The Tigers sit ninth on the ladder, one win and points differential behind Brisbane Broncos.
The Broncos were one of five teams in the top eight to lose in Round 22, Wayne Bennett’s men going down 34-30 to North Queensland Cowboys on Thursday evening.
The Roosters replaced the Rabbitohs on top of the ladder with a terrific 18-14 victory on Friday.
Elsewhere, caretaker Penrith coach Cam Ciraldo watched the Panthers win, thanks to a late comeback for the third week in a row.
Tries in the last six minutes to Nathan Cleary and Dallin Watene-Zelezniak helped the Panthers to a 17-16 win on the Gold Coast against the Titans.
Also on Saturday, Manly beat Canterbury 18-6 and there was a major shock at ANZ Stadium as Parramatta climbed off the bottom.
The Eels ran riot in a 40-4 thumping of the fifth-placed St George Illawarra, with Jarryd Hayne scoring a hat-trick for the victors.
The Dragons are sweating on the fitness of captain Gareth Widdop, too, the Englishman withdrawn in the first half with a right shoulder injury.
Round 22’s other result saw New Zealand Warriors scrap to a 20-4 win over Newcastle in Auckland.