MELBOURNE STORM 18 (Kevin Proctor, Mahe Fonua, Sisa Waqa tries; Cameron Smith 2 goals; Cooper Cronk 2 field goals)
PENRITH PANTHERS 17 (Kevin Naiqama 2, Josh Mansour tries; Peter Wallace 2 goals; Peter Wallace field goal)
Penrith came within a whisker of ending their hoodoo in Melbourne, going down 18-17 in a thriller at AAMI Park.
Cooper Cronk’s field goal with half a minute on the clock remaining put the Storm in front. A short kick-off resulted in a Panthers penalty forty-two metres out from the Storm’s line. Peter Wallace had the game in his hands to win if he was to successfully convert the penalty goal. Alas, the ball stayed to the right of the posts and the Storm escaped with victory.
Penrith did their best to spoil the party for Cameron Smith’s record breaking appearances with Melbourne; and Billy Slaters 250th. Despite Penrith having 90% of possession in the first five minutes of the game, Melbourne did what they do best and went downfield, scoring through Kevin Proctor. Mahe Fonua scored four minutes later after exposing Dean Whare’s defence close to the line.
Despite being on the Storm’s line early on, Penrith lacked creativity. Once James Segeyaro and Tyrone Peachey were introduced into the game, Penrith looked much better with the ball. Kevin Naqaima scored in the corner and Wallace’s sideline conversion bought the margin back to two.
Sisa Waqa scored on the half-hour, before Naiqama completed a double following a lost ball by Billy Slater, put under pressure by Matt Moylan’s kick chase. Melbourne would lead 14-10 at the break with Cameron Smith’s forty minute penalty goal.
Penrith’s commitment never let up in the second half. In a move that went from side to side in the opening minutes, Josh Mansour finished off a sensational try with Matt Moylan assisting.
Penalty goals were the order of the second half as both sides became frustrated with some interesting referee decisions. Billy Slater’s sin bin for holding down too long with Penrith on the attack, gifted Wallace with a penalty conversion. Slater dumbfounded in the post-match as to why he was sin binned. It was quite clear he committed a professional foul. Unfortunately the Panthers couldn’t get the try that would have given them the advantage with one extra player. Cameron Smith with thirteen remaining also converted a penalty goal and scores were level.
Melbourne appeared to panic with five minutes remaining as Cooper Cronk landed a field goal. It looked like the decision was taken too early in the game. And that was confirmed when Wallace levelled scores with ninety seconds to go.
Smith’s experience to drive the ball into touch from the restart handed the Storm possession and provided Cronk with the match winning field goal with half a minute to go.
Wallace was set to break the 3,192 day hoodoo in Melbourne but missed the conversion.
Penrith were relentless in defence and at one stage repelled Melbourne for back to back sets of six when they were hot on the attack. The boys did enough to win the game considering Jamie Soward and David Simmons were late withdrawals.
On the flip-side Jamal Idris played his first National Rugby League game in Panthers colours, providing good support for another debutant in Kevin Naiqama. Naiqama was denied a hat-trick before the break with the officials calling a pass forward.
Penrith will have some work to do on the left hand side of defence with Dean Whare and Josh Mansour looking in all sorts of trouble as the Storm dominated in the first half hour.
Wallace continues to provide the level-headed decision making in another good hit-out for the club.
James Segeyaro and Tyrone Peachey asked many questions of the Storm’s defence. Segeyaro in particular bouncing back from a somewhat quiet first game, putting a question in Ivan Cleary’s mind as to whether it’s time for the pocket-rocket to start at the expense of Kevin Kingston. At some point of time with Kingston set to leave the club at the end of 2014, Segeyaro must get a chance.
Full credit to Penrith having shown professionalism. Not letting their efforts get in the way of the late withdrawals of Simmons and Soward, plus the sacking of James Roberts on Friday.
This game showed signs of Penrith having a great 2014 season.