Penrith Panthers make it look easy against an injury-hit Storm in a Magic Round game that couldn’t live up to the hype

With every hour that passed until the highly anticipated game between table-topping Melbourne Storm and reigning Premiers Penrith, it looked like another big name had come out.

Storm full-back Ryan Papenhuyzen was the big one, reduced in perhaps the best form of his career, with injury to center Reimis Smith prompting a complete rear-line reshuffle.

Then Cleary was a game day scratch. Fortunately, it was Coach Ivan rather than his son.

Then, a few hours before kick-off, Storm half Jahrome Hughes succumbed to a sprained calf.

Storm half-back Jahrome Hughes has joined full-back Ryan Papenhuyzen on the injured list after failing a late fitness test.(Getty Images, Daniel Pockett )

With a few strokes of the red pencil, what was supposed to be a match between two star-studded teams in their splendor was once again reduced to a case of a full-fledged team taking on an almost unrecognizable group.

It might seem like a stretch to suggest that one or two injuries can have that kind of impact on a team like the Storm, but there has been a clear ripple effect.

Papenhuyzen’s injury meant an early Nick Meaney reshuffle from wing to full-back, which meant Dean Ieremia and Marion Seve would have to form a completely new wing-centre combination.

Perhaps fearing the Panthers would score 300 points on that wing, coach Craig Bellamy reshuffled again, with substitute hooker Tyran Wishart channeling his father Rod and sliding into a guard role, leaving Meaney at number two.

Hughes would have been a natural candidate to fill in at the back, but his injury paid off that idea, along with the idea of ​​moving Cameron Munster there, as the Storm needed at least an experienced header in the halves.

Bellamy also separated the experienced outside backs, with Justin Olam on the left and Xavier Coates on the right, but that didn’t matter.

In the opening 10 minutes, Seve had been targeted for two Panther tries and the makeshift full-back had struck on a relatively straightforward support run, which led straight into the second of those.

Jarome Luai’s attempt to start the scoring in the second half was also the result of Seve’s lane targeting, and Wishart’s confidence looked dead and buried at the end of a night of horror under high balls, low balls , fastballs, sliders, off-speed pitches and whatever the Panthers felt like throwing at him.

Storm fans needn’t despair too much – the same thing happened the other way around in round 20 last year.

The 2020 grand finalists faced off with just over a month to go, but Penrith were managed by Dylan Edwards, which should tell you how little alike they looked.

No Cleary (Nathan this time), Isaah Yeo, Brian To’o, Kurt Capewell or James Fisher-Harris led to a 37-10 victory for the Storm; a far cry from the 10-6 loss to Penrith in the preliminary round nine weeks later.

So what can we really learn from these games?

The Panthers are the new kings of the “Next Man Up”

Give Melbourne an off-season and they can turn anyone into a top NRL player. They’ve been doing it for the better part of two decades now.

But in Penrith, it barely takes them a week.

Two Penrith Panthers NRL players embrace after a try scored against Melbourne Storm
The Panthers used Viliame Kikau to relentlessly attack Marion Seve.(PA: Dave Hunt)

Every time one of their top guys goes down, there’s another flier or bowler ready and waiting.

We’ve seen it this season, with Taylan May making such an impression replacing Brian To’o that he forced Charlie Staines out of the team.

He or Stephen Crichton might be the best guard on many teams, but the Panthers have Dylan Edwards.

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