The Panthers put themselves back into contention for a home final with a 22-16 victory over a depleted Storm side at AAMI Park.
Josh Mansour opened up the Panthers account with a surprise dummy half charge on the goal-line to power his way over. He was sin-binned moments later and within minutes of being back, James Tamou got binned.
Despite that and an 11-2 penalty count at half-time, the Panthers were only down 6-10. A momentary lapse in defence giving Melbourne their only try of the half through Felise Kaufusi.
In the second half, Penrith cleaned up their discipline and took control of the match. Another try to Mansour, a double to Waqa Blake and a moment of brilliance from Christian Crichton gave them a 22-10 lead. A rare horror night from the boot for Nathan Cleary preventing the margin from being any greater.
A late try to Storm debutant Scott Drinkwater set up a frantic finish but the Panthers held on for a crucial win.
Result further complicates top 8 formation
The Panthers victory has made the ladder even more of a logjam than it already is. They reclaimed 5th position and put themselves on 32 points, equal with the Sharks and Warriors. Currently in 7th and 8th position are the Dragons and Broncos on 30 points with matches to come.
With the Sharks also yet to play, the end of the round could result in five different teams all finishing on 32 points. The Panthers look safe to claim a home final with a 19 point gap between them and the Dragons while they have a 32 point advantage over the Broncos.
Strange things can happen in league though and the Panthers are no certainty to hold on.
Crichton’s try one for the highlight reel
Crichton scored the eventual match winning try with a superb intercept. Reaching his hand out in desperation of preventing the ball getting to Addo-Carr, he fell over, regathered and got back up to sprint away for the line.
Panthers break Melbourne hoodoo
The Panthers hadn’t won in Melbourne since 2005 and had been victorious just once in their past 18 attempts. The Storm were well below full-strength but for Penrith to post a 5 tries to 2 victories where they spent 1/4 of the match with only 12 men, it’d be a huge confidence booster for them before the finals.
Scott Drinkwater impressive on debut
Named at halfback but playing at fullback, Drinkwater had a debut to remember despite the result. He ran for 173m, busted 8 tackles and scored a late try to give the Storm hope of a comeback.
The Storm’s performance on the night was close to giving coach Bellamy a brain aneurysm but Drinkwater’s performance would have been a good consolation.
With Slater retiring, Drinkwater has demonstrated his potential to take over as the Storm custodian.
Tries: Josh Mansour (12m, 45m), Waqa Blake (51m, 69m), Christian Crichton (72m)
Goals: Nathan Cleary 1/6
Tries: Felise Kaufusi (26m), Scott Drinkwater (75m)
Goals: Cameron Smith 4/5