MELBOURNE’S premiership credentials remain a mystery after they came within a whisker of crashing to their second consecutive home defeat against an impressive Penrith outfit at Olympic Park.
The Storm are yet to find the form that has taken them to three consecutive grand finals and were lucky to escape with the points after the visitors bombed two first-half tries that should have seen them take a stranglehold on the match before half-time.
But their class told in the end, with some last-ditch defence and two Cameron Smith penalty goals enough to see them record their third win of the season.
Trailing 6-0 early, Storm fullback Billy Slater levelled the scores with a try midway through the first half and then withstood a mountain of pressure from an ever-improving Panthers outfit.
It was against the run of play that the home side eventually took the lead early in the second half when Anthony Quinn leapt highest to collect a Cooper Cronk bomb but even after opening a 14-6 lead through a penalty soon after they weren’t out of jail yet.
The Panthers fought back strongly to level the scores yet again at 14-all before Smith kicked his second penalty goal to give Melbourne what would prove to be the match-winning points.
Penrith had a try disallowed for a forward pass late in the game but can blame only themselves for missing some straight-forward chances early on.
The Game Swung When… Anthony Quinn outjumped the defence six minutes into the second half to give Melbourne a surprise lead.
The Storm had hung on by the skin of their teeth for much of the first half and rarely looked like scoring, but after defending stoutly they took the lead for the first time in the contest and were never headed again.
Who Was Hot… Melbourne fullback Billy Slater was the difference for Melbourne, saving a try with a crucial tackle on the tryline, scoring a try and making sure he was involved in everything the Storm did well on the night.
Penrith utility Luke Lewis was equally impressive for his side and had the Storm on the back foot for much of the night with some quality touches.
Who Was Not… Melbourne’s forwards were out-gunned by their rivals, thanks largely to another dominant performance from Penrith captain Petero Civoniceva.
Back-rower Wairangi Koopu was particularly disappointing, running for just 17 metres and making two glaring errors along the way.
Had To Be Seen To Be Believed… Penrith supporters were left wondering how their side managed to bomb a certain try just 10 minutes into the game that would have given them a 12-0 lead.
Frank Pritchard’s perfectly timed cut-out ball sent Shane Elford away and he only needed to find an unmarked Michael Jennings on the inside for the Panthers to score.
Instead, his pass sailed over Jennings’ shoulder and Melbourne managed to scramble themselves out of danger.
Bad Boys… Will Chambers was charged with a dangerous throw on Lachlan Coote; with an early guilty plea he’ll be free to play next week.
Injuries… Lachlan Coote (Panthers) – neck, 0-1 week.
Refs Watch… Penrith coach Matt Elliott was livid with referees Tony Archer and Chris James for awarding two crucial penalties to Melbourne in front of the posts – but he should be far more upset with his side’s finishing, which proved far more costly in the end.
NRL.com Best & Fairest… 3 points – Billy Slater (Storm): Scored a try, saved another and was heavily involved in everything important that happened; 2 points – Luke Lewis (Panthers): The key man for Penrith, Lewis scored the try that got his side back into the game with a dynamic burst and caused constant headaches for the Storm; 1 point – Petero Civoniceva (Panthers): The dominant forward on the field by a long way, running for an impressive 161 metres.
Storm 16 (B Slater, A Quinn tries; C Smith 4 goals) def Penrith 14 (B Tighe, L Lewis tries; M Gordon 3 goals) at Olympic Park. Crowd: 10,110.