The Penrith Panthers head out west for their annual Bathurst trip to take on the undefeated Melbourne Storm.
TEAM FORM GUIDE
After a disappointing round one defeat to the Eels, the Panthers bounced back in a gritty victory over the Newcastle Knights. Their defence shined, constantly turning away the Knights in a match that could’ve always gone either way. They now face an even tougher test against a Storm side that look like they haven’t lost a step even after the loss of Billy Slater.
Many wondered how much the loss of Billy Slater would affect the Storm but they’ve looked nearly the same side over the opening two rounds. They were far too good for the Raiders last week, with Suliasi Vunivalu bagging a hat-trick in the first 30 minutes, so the Panthers will have to be on their game to make sure the big winger doesn’t run rampant once again.
Josh Mansour returns to the side on the wing, pushing Malakai Watene-Zelezniak to the reserves. Frank Winterstein moves from the bench to the starting side to replace Isaah Yeo (concussion) with Tyrell Fuimaono coming onto the bench. Reagan Campbell-Gillard has again been named to start but he has been swapped onto the bench in both the opening games.
Penrith Panthers squad: 1 Dylan Edwards, 2 Josh Mansour, 3 Dean Whare, 4 Waqa Blake, 5 Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, 6 James Maloney, 7 Nathan Cleary, 8 James Tamou, 9 Sione Katoa, 10 Reagan Campbell-Gillard, 11 James Fisher-Harris, 12 Frank Winterstein, 13 Hame Sele Interchange: 14 Wayde Egan, 15 Tyrell Fuimaono, 16 Moses Leota, 17 Jack Hetherington Reserves: 18 Jarome Luai, 19 Tim Grant, 20 Malakai Watene-Zelezniak, 21 Liam Martin
The Storm are unchanged following their 22-10 win over the Raiders last week.
Melbourne Storm squad: 1 Jahrome Hughes, 2 Suliasi Vunivalu, 3 Will Chambers, 4 Curtis Scott, 5 Josh Addo-Carr, 6 Cameron Munster, 7 Brodie Croft, 8 Jesse Bromwich, 9 Cameron Smith, 10 Nelson Asofa-Solomona, 11 Felise Kaufusi, 12 Kenneath Bromwich, 13 Dale Finucane Interchange: 14 Brandon Smith, 15 Christian Welch, 16 Tui Kamikamica, 17 Marion Seve Reserves: 18 Ryan Papenhuyzen, 19 Patrick Kaufusi, 20 Albert Vete, 21 Billy Walters
HEAD TO HEAD
The Storm hold an incredible record over the Panthers, winning 17 of the last 19 games played between the two sides. The Panthers took the two points in their last meeting, however, winning 22-16 at AAMI Park in Round 25 last season against an under strength Storm side. Melbourne will be at full strength in this match so no doubt the Panthers will have to be at the top of their game.
The battle of the five-eighths will be one to watch this weekend. Cameron Munster has become of the best players in the entire competition over the last couple of years after taking over the key playmaker role following Cooper Cronk’s departure. He is always dangerous with ball in hand and is incredibly strong, always creating chances in attack.
There’s no denying James Maloney’s talent and experience and his cool head under pressure. His defence has always been a weakness but he was simply outstanding in this regard last week, highlighted by an incredible try saving tackle on Edrick Lee that well and truly could have decided the game. There’s no doubt the Storm will target him so he will have to be ready to go again defensively as well as creating opportunities in attack.
THE IMPORTANT DETAILS
Date: Saturday, May 30
Venue: Carrington Park
Referee: Ashley Klein, Adam Cassidy
WHO WILL WIN?
The Panthers will definitely take a lot of confidence out of their defensive performance a week ago, but the Storm are another monster. Their ability to target a team’s weakness and exploit it for a full 80 minutes is second to none. And of course, the Storm still have one of the best of all time in Cameron Smith. It won’t be a blowout but the Storm will show too much class.
Storm by 8