Greg Prichard,, NRL.com
Panthers v Storm
It isn’t much fun playing against the Storm at the best of times, and it is usually even harder when they are coming off a loss. The Storm were beaten 24-20 at home by the Raiders last weekend, so they will come to Penrith looking to make somebody pay.
The Storm had one bad patch last season, and it coincided with the representative period. State of Origin always bites hard on the Storm because it puts a significant extra load on their “big three’ – Billy Slater, Cameron Smith and Cooper Cronk. They actually lost a very un-Storm-like five in a row during that period, but at no other stage during the season did they lose two in a row. Unfortunately for the Panthers, the Origin factor hasn’t kicked in yet this season.
The Raiders showed a way of beating the Storm, if you’re good enough. They concentrated hard on getting their very good wide attackers on the outside of their opposites, and in the process they exposed some flaws in the Storm defence. But the Storm will have worked hard to try to make adjustments this week, and there is a big question mark over whether the Panthers have the same sort of ability to challenge the Storm as the Raiders did.
The Panthers are hanging in there recently. They were in the game at halftime against the Roosters last weekend, trailing 10-6, but couldn’t hold them in the second half and lost, 30-6. In the previous round they thrashed the Eels at home, 44-12, and the week before that they went down 8-6 against the Knights on the road. The Storm were unbeaten before losing to the Raiders.
In team changes, Isaac John replaces Tom Humble at five-eighth for the Panthers, who have also made two adjustments within their 17. Lock Nathan Smith and prop Mose Masoe have gone from the starting side to the bench, with Adam Docker and Nigel Plum taking their places. Sam Anderson has been added to what is a five-man bench.
The Storm’s starting side is unchanged. Three players – Slade Griffin, Lagi Setu and Kenny Bromwich – have been added to what is a seven-man bench.
Watch Out Panthers: Expect the Storm to react to their loss to the Raiders by coming out to play the game at speed, with a lot of intensity. It won’t be only the big three the Panthers have to worry about, but a general attitude from the Storm that they are determined to show that the team beaten by the Raiders wasn’t the real them.
Watch Out Storm: Panthers halfback Luke Walsh is renowned for having one of the best kicking games in the competition, and he is going to have to be spot-on with it here to give his team any chance of winning. Walsh has got it all covered – the full-on bombs, the more shallow lobs, the chip kicks and the grubbers.
Plays To Watch: Ryan Hoffman scored 11 tries in 27 games for the Storm last season. This season, he has scored just one in eight games, and that was back in Round 2 against the Cowboys. Hoffman is playing well – he just doesn’t happen to be scoring the tries yet. That is bound to change – quite possibly here.
Dean Whare is no Michael Jennings, but he has made three line-breaks for the Panthers this season. They need him to do some damage in this game, and Whare appeals as the outside back most likely to trouble the Storm like the Raiders did last weekend.
Key Match-Up: What a game in which to make your Panthers debut for former Warriors playmaker John! He’s got ability, but there will be some serious heat on him at five-eighth here. Storm No.6 Gareth Widdop had an off game against the Raiders, including an ill-timed kick on the first tackle with 75 seconds left in the game. He will be keen to atone here.
Where It Will Be Won: If it is to be won by the Panthers, it is going to take one of those stunning team efforts in which everyone plays to their known ability... and some play above it. The Storm won’t seek to reinvent the wheel after their loss to the Raiders. They will bank on getting back to their typically relentless style of play, supported by a more robust defence.
The History: Played 25; Storm 19, Panthers 6. Ominously the Storm have won the past nine clashes between the sides.
Match Officials: Referees – Gavin Badger & Alan Shortall; Sideline Officials – Dan Eastwood & Michael Wise; Video Referees – Steve Chiddy & Matt Rodwell.
NRL Live 2013 App: Gives you access to every NRL game this season on your iPhone or Android smartphone as it’s being broadcast on TV, with up to six live games each week including the Panthers v Storm clash. Plus latest live scores, breaking news, comprehensive match highlights and full match replays.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live, 6.30pm.
The Way We See It: Looking at the Panthers’ line-up doesn’t breed confidence in their ability to get the job done here. They will be honest and work hard, but it is difficult to see them holding the chastised Storm for 60 minutes, let alone 80, even at home. Storm by 20 points.
*Statistics: NRL Stats