The Penrith Panthers were up against it coming into this game by winning only twice in the last twenty matches against the Melbourne Storm.
They prevailed, with a 21-14 victory lifting the mountain men to third on the premiership ladder.
The Panthers overall record against the Storm didn’t read any better with just a 23% winning record against Craig Bellamy’s men.
The only record that was in the Panthers favour was they had won their past 7 games at Campbelltown.
A key match-up in this game was the battle of the hookers.
Cameron Smith versus Apisai Koroisau. The winner of this battle would go a long way to determining the winner.
The game started at a very fast pace with minimal errors. The early exchanges were very physical and very high completion rates.
Marion Seve who was filling in for Josh Ado-Carr who was with his partner for the birth of their baby was under pressure very early on mainly due to Cleary’s sensational kicking game.
The Panthers opened the scoring at the 17th minute through a try by Stephen Crichton.
Finding the stripe would have been a confident booster from his unhappy game last week against Waqa Blake from Parramatta.
Koroisau started a play down the left hand side through his fast dummy half work to find Jarome Luai who threw a great cut out ball to Josh Mansour.
An easy draw and pass put Crichton over untouched adjacent to the posts. Cleary converted the easy conversion to have the Panthers up 6-0.
The Panthers off-loads in the first 25 minutes were making life very hard for the Storm and they were well on top mainly through the tempo of Koroisau’s play out of dummy half.
High completions continued late into the first half with both teams over 87% in a very high quality and physical contest.
On the stroke of 31 minutes and after conceding a six again call, the Panthers defence cracked.
A smart Cameron Munster pass fooled defenders and Felise Kaufusi crashed over.
Smith made easy work of the conversion to lock the game up at 6-all.
This was the first real opportunity the Storm had down on the Panthers line and the rewards came.
The Storm were starting to gain back the momentum they had lost for the past 30 minutes.
Viliame Kikau went down with a looked to be a shoulder injury which could have been devastating for the Panthers but he remained on the field.
With 2 minutes remaining until half-time, Smith was penalised for taking out Cleary on a kick chase.
With not much time on the clock, Cleary decided to take the easy penalty kick at goal.
He slotted this kick for the Panthers to take the lead at half-time 8-6.
The second half started off in the same vein as the first half with the game continuing at a great pace and teams being very physical.
The good form continued for the Panthers as they crossed the stripe on the 50th minute through Brian To’o.
To’o was having a great night so far with plenty of run metres and being safe under the high ball.
It was a great pass from Isaah Yeo to Cleary who got the ball out to To’o who then grounded the ball.
Cleary converted the try again for the Panthers to take the biggest lead of the game out to 14-6.
5 minutes later with some Cameron Munster magic, Brenko Lee scored a 4 pointer for the Storm.
A double pump followed by a bullet cut out pass give Lee a very simple run to the line.
Smith again converted the try to give the Panthers a slim 14-12 lead.
Munster was the Storm’s most dangerous player so far in this game.
With 2 try assists, he was keeping the Storm in the game.
A forced error by the Panthers in their own half put them under pressure and the Storm were looking to score back-to-back tries.
In the ensuing tackles, the Storm received a penalty for ruck interference and Smith decided to take the penalty kick at goal.
He was successful and this locked the game up again. 14-all with 20 minutes to go.
Nelson Asofa-Solomona was having a big second half for the Storm after a quiet first half.
From nothing and on the last tackle, a Clearly bomb saw Kikau run through like a man on a mission to take the ball out of the air to score.
Cleary again converted to have the Panthers leading 20-14.
The Storm would of loved to have Josh Addo-Carr in their side tonight as Seve was always under pressure and not having a happy night due to Cleary’s exceptional kicking game.
This wasn’t helping the Storm’s chances.
With 5 minutes remaining in the game the Storm give away an unnecessary penalty which ended up giving the Panthers great field position.
The Ice Man Cleary then slotted a field goal under pressure to give the Panthers a handy 7-point lead.
The Storm had repeat sets in the Panthers attacking half but they were unable to crack the resilient and tough defence of the Panthers.
Liam Martin was given 10 mins in the sin bin with 1 minute remaining for repeated infringements but this didn’t affect the Panthers in any way.
The Storm were not at their best tonight but the Panthers showed they can match it with the top teams in the competition.
“Penrith out played and out enthused us. They were more interested in the game then us” Bellamy said.
The win will be a great confident booster for this Penrith side leading into the coming weeks and they will be a very happy camp tonight.
“We are very happy to get the win tonight especially over the Storm” Koroisau said.
NRL News Player of the Game
3 – Apisai Koroisau
2 – Cameron Munster
1 – Nathan Cleary