The top two teams from the past two years face off in the game of the season so far when the Panthers and Storm face off on Saturday night.
Penrith surged early with the game’s first two tries before Cameron Munster’s magic cut the deficit to 14-6 for Melbourne as rain fell at Suncorp Stadium.
That rain caused all sorts of problems for the Storm later in the half, as an error off the kick gave Penrith their third try of the night.
Penrith then continued the charge with the first two tries of the second half.
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The tries kept coming for the Panthers as Isaah Yeo and Nathan Cleary connected to put Stephen Crichton over the top. “It was a brutal performance from them,” said Michael Ennis.
The Panthers continued where they left off in the first half, Nathan Cleary putting Viliame Kikau through a holeshot and the second rower then offloaded to put Jarome Luai over the top. With his conversion, Cleary (1,106) passed club legend Greg Alexander (1,104) in all-time points scored in Panthers history and now sits second overall.
A Jarome Luai kick brought points just before half-time in what Dan Ginnane called a “devastating” blow for Melbourne.
Young full-back Tyran Wishart made the mistake and Izack Tago pounced for his second try of the night.
In another blow to the Storm, Brandon Smith then came off the field, reportedly for an HIA test.
Stephen Crichton nearly scored but was held back by a desperate tackle from Cameron Munster. A Nick Meaney high tackle on Dylan Edwards in the build-up saw Penrith awarded a penalty and Nathan Cleary slotted in to make it 14-6.
The Storm finally fought back after Cameron Munster threw two big plays. First, he stripped the ball in a one-on-one tackle with Izack Tago.
Then, after a run and offload from Harry Grant, Munster spotted Brian To’o up and down, kicking over the top for Nick Meaney to score.
“You are witnessing something special,” Dan Ginanne said.
“Cameron Munster with his first opportunity.”
“Look at the genius of Cameron Munster. Brilliant game”, added Michael Ennis while Benji Marshall called him a “monster”.
“It’s always the question of who’s going to take over when they need something special and Cameron Munster delivers on that occasion,” Marshall added.
The Panthers blew an overlap down the right edge but caught that when Nathan Cleary kicked for a leaping Viliame Kikau who went down with it.
“This is ridiculous,” Michael Ennis said in a comment while Dan Ginnane described Kikau as “unstoppable.”
The Panthers were quick to strike in last year’s Preliminary Finals rematch. On that occasion, Nathan Cleary dug into the line and linked up with Isaah Yeo who went to Jarome Luai and the Panthers five-eights played him beautifully.
He held back the pass, dragging Melbourne’s right edge defense with him and slotted Izack Tago into a gaping hole.
He saw Penrith expose Melbourne’s big problem early on – the inexperience of their right-side defense of Marion Seve, Xavier Coates and Cooper Johns.
“They will attack this edge all night. Inexperienced combinations that haven’t spent a lot of time together,” Premiership-winning point guard Benji Marshall said during Fox League coverage.
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Star Storm duo Ryan Papenhuyzen and Jahrome Hughes may have been left out of the clash, but the Panthers know not to take this juggernaut club lightly.
Injuries to Papenhuyzen and Hughes forced coach Craig Bellamy to make big changes to his spine.
Nick Meaney was originally named full-back, but Tyran Wishart will replace Papenhuyzen, while Cooper Johns will take over as full-back for his first game of the season.
Reimis Smith is also out with a pectoral injury he suffered last week. Development player Marion Seve had an opportunity in the crosses.
The Panthers don’t have a good health record either. Coach Ivan Cleary did not make it to the Magic Round due to complications from a knee infection which also kept him out of last week’s game.
As Cleary watched from home last week, the Panthers suffered their first loss of the season in a 22-20 upset against the Eels.
But in a boost, seasoned forward Scott Sorensen returns from illness.
Assistant coaches Cameron Ciraldo and Andrew Webster will lead the team in Cleary’s absence.
storm team: 15. Tyran Wishart 1. Nick Meaney 3. Marion Seve 4. Justin Olam 5. Xavier Coates 6. Cameron Munster 18. Cooper Johns 8. Jesse Bromwich 9. Harry Grant 10. Nelson Asofa-Solomona 11. Felise Kaufusi 12. Kenny Bromwich 13. Josh King 14. Brandon Smith 16. Trent Loiero 17. Chris Lewis 23. Tui Kamikamica. 18th man: 21. Jayden Nikorima
Panthers Team: 1. Dylan Edwards 2. Taylan May 3. Izack Tago 4. Stephen Crichton 5. Brian To’o 6. Jarome Luai 7. Nathan Cleary 8. Moses Leota 9. Apisai Koroisau 10. James Fisher-Harris 11. Viliame Kikau 12 Liam Martin 13. Isaah Yeo 14. Mitch Kenny 15. Scott Sorensen 16. Spencer Leniu 17. Jaeman Salmon. 18th man: 18. Robert Jennings
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