Not only did the Penrith Panthers keep the minor premiership race well and truly alive, they also killed a 5 year losing streak against the Melbourne Storm.
Having only won 1 of the last 18 games against the Storm, the boys from Penrith were in for quite a challenge however, the challenge appeared a little lessened with the late withdrawal of Billy Slater due to personal matters and Cameron Munster and Brodie Croft due to injury.
Despite the players lost, the Storm still put up quite a fight in front of their home crowd finding themselves first on the board early in the game through a penalty conversion from the skipper.
Just seven minutes later Josh Mansour responded with a powerful solo try which found him fighting off three Melbourne defenders to muscle the ball down for the first try of the night.
The tables turned for Mansour very quickly, however, when he left his team down to 12 men after he was deemed to have grabbed the arm of Justin Olam restricting him from possibly scoring a try.
The professional foul sanction proving quite costly to Penrith as their frustration quickly took over the game as displayed through a very uneven penalty count.
The Storm looked to capitalise on the advantage, over coming an initial no try, with a try to Felise Kaufusi who finally broke the Penrith defense wall which had stood so strongly until that moment.
Cameron Smith was sweet with the boot to convert the try and found himself lining up just 3 minutes later after a Tyrone Peachey tackle was deemed head high.
Uncharacteristically, the skipper missed the conversion but not even a full minute later the Panthers found themselves down to 12 men again with James Tamou in the bin after repeat penalties.
Smith couldn’t miss two in a row and slot the goal sweetly to take his team’s lead to 6 points.
2 minutes before the half time siren rang and the Panthers pounced on a penalty conversion chance late in the half – this goal proving to be Nathan Cleary’s only successful shot at goal all night.
The second half looked to have started off bright with young debutant Scott Drinkwater crossing the try line only to have his moment denied due to an obstruction.
The Panthers jumped at the opportunity to level up the scoreboard and just minutes later, Mansour was over for his double after some individual excellence from Waqa Blake.
As time quickly ticked on, the Storm looked to be showing signs of weakness as they missed their star players who provide extra creativity in attack.
The Panthers were looking to load the points on with Blake getting himself on the score board this time off a perfectly weighted James Maloney kick. A kick which definitely cemented the importance of the veteran half in this team.
The two teams continued to tussle hard for the next 20 minutes with lots of near moments of brilliance – including a no try to Olam – but the Panthers, through Blake again, put the dagger into the Storm as he got himself a double.
The night wasn’t finished, though, with a new contender for try of the year going to Christian Crichton after he managed to acrobatically grab himself an intercept from Cheyse Blair to take the lead to 12.
Nathan Cleary’s boot was the only real concerning signs for the Panthers, keeping the Storm ever so slightly still in the game.
A 12 point lead quickly dropped to 6 through the young boy on the park. Amazingly, the debutant Drinkwater managed to score himself a try even after being denied in the first half and the Storm kept the faith alive at AAMI Park.
The Storm threw everything they had at the Panthers in the final minutes with some very near misses but some brilliant defence, particularly from Cleary and Regan Campbell-Gillard, granted the Panthers their 2 points.
Panthers coach Cam Ciraldo admits that he could not be prouder of his side’s performance.
“I couldn’t be prouder,” Ciraldo said.
“It’s been a tough couple of weeks.
“Just the way they prepared all week gave us a real confidence coming down here.
“The way they hung in here tonight, I couldn’t be prouder of their effort.”
Still a chance to win the minor premiership if results go their way, Cam Smith admits that the Storm are lucky to even have a chance to win it.
“Winning the minor premiership would have been really nice, but if you look at the way our season’s panned out,” the Storm captain said.
“It’s quite a remarkable effort to be quite honest to have the Melbourne Storm sitting second and playing a game in the last round to wrap up the minor premiership.”
Player of the Match:
3. Waqa Blake
2. Josh Mansour
1. Scott Drinkwater