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Storm survive Panthers scare

Will Botoulas, Melbourne Correspondent NRL.com Sat, Mar 15, 2014 - 7:32 PM

The new rules changes that saw the clock stopped in the closing stages of the Storm's nail-biting win over the Panthers worked a treat. Copyright: Brett Crockford/NRL Photos. Copyright: Brett Crockford/NRL Photos

A week that began with a thrilling win would finish in the same way for the Melbourne Storm, as a last minute drop-goal handed the club a second consecutive one-point victory to start its 2014 campaign.

In a game in which captain Cameron Smith broke the club's games record and Billy Slater played his 250th game, the Storm were left hanging until the final second to ensure that could celebrate in style.

In his first game of the season, Cooper Cronk would assume the role of hero, kicking the game-winning point in shockingly similar circumstances to his captain last week.

That wasn't the latest drama of the match, as an offside penalty on the home side gave Panthers co-captain Peter Wallace a chance to win the game with a goal attempt from 42 metres.

The kick went right, the Storm were winners and the majority of the 13,952-strong crowd could finally celebrate another heart-stopping win.

Though they were left wondering at times if perhaps this wasn't the party they had come for.

The Panthers looked to spoil the occasion right from the outset, dominating field position in the early stages.

Melbourne's left side, which can be exposed defensively, was a target for the Panthers early.

However despite enjoying 60 per cent of possession the visitors would find themselves down after 10 minutes when Cronk played Kevin Proctor through to get the home side on their way.

It was then two in five minutes for Melbourne, with Cronk and Proctor again involved in a brilliant string of passes before Mahe Fonua proved the beneficiary.

The 8-0 deficit would have had Panthers coach Ivan Cleary scratching his head. However persistance finally paid off for the visitors after 26 minutes as a switch in attacking focus to the right saw winger Kevin Naiqama cross the line.

A conversion by Wallace made it just two points the difference, a relevant justification for their territorial dominance.

Despite Penrith continuing to look the better side, both teams traded blows on the scoreboard.

Mahe Fonua and Sisa Waqa crossed for the Storm whilst Naiqama had two first-half tries.

Smith struggled to find his kicking boots in the first half, although a successful attempt from 42 metres out on the eve of half-time saw the Storm hold a slight semblance of momentum at the break.

Within three minutes of the restart though Penrith had the scores all square as Matt Moylan played a long ball out wide to Josh Mansour to score his first for the night after looking so threatening in the first half.

The Storm fans would have creeped ever closer to the edge of their seats when, on 58 minutes, milestone fullback Billy Slater was sin-binned and a Wallace penalty kick handed Penrith a 16-14 advantage. Segrayo had broken the Storm's line for the second time in the match, forcing Slater to make a try-saving tackle, however the 30-year-old caught the ire of the referee for knocking Wallace off his feet.

However the Storm managed to level the scores despite being a man down, as Smith converted a penalty kick from point-blank range just as Slater returned to the field with 12 minutes to play, setting the contest up for a barn-storming finish. Cronk's heroics ensured his champion teammates would remember a milestone night in a memorable way.