Panthers set for toughest test yet
Taking on the high-flying Melbourne Storm at AAMI Park is not an easy feat – just ask the Penrith Panthers who have only tasted victory once in over a decade against them.
That victory came in 2013 in a close 12-10 contest at Pepper Stadium, but you'll have to go back even further to 2005 for their next taste of victory and only their second in the "sporting capital of the world".
Panthers forward Leilani Latu admitted the players were aware of the daunting record against last year's grand finalists but said they needed to prepare for the game with a positive mentality.
"When you play up against three future immortals it's a big challenge and you're playing at their home ground too so I don't look too much into it (the losing streak against Melbourne)," Latu told NRL.com.
"There are a lot of factors to it but Melbourne is just such a consistent and discipline team under Craig Bellamy with a good regime and we just haven't been able to overcome that but we've gone close on occasions, too.
"It's an important clash for us and will define where our mentality is, even though it is early on in the season, Hook (Panthers coach Anthony Griffin) has put it to us.
"Mentally and physically we are prepared but we just need to get our execution right with our plays and what better way to do it than against one of the best in the competition."
It was a defensive onslaught for Nathan Cleary in the only fixture between the two sides last season, with the 19-year-old thrown in for his Telstra Premiership debut and forced to make 38 tackles with Bellamy's outfit targeting the rookie in defence.
The halfback stood tall in the 18-point loss, and Latu believes Cleary's introduction to first grade was beneficial for his long-term development in the game.
"It was unfortunate that night how things went but it was a learning curve for Nathan to be in that arena around those great players up against him," he said.
"He's now blossomed into a very mature player now and that tough debut for him was handled very well and if anything it probably held him in good stead with his introduction to the NRL.
"There are a lot of things that would get to a person at his age but for him but he's got a very level head and the experienced players around the club, they pour their knowledge into him and keep him calm.
"We need that type of calmness to control our attack."
After finishing the 2016 season in the No.8 jersey last year, Latu has been forced to make way for the arrival of Australian international James Tamou's arrival and finds himself delivering the impact from the interchange bench.
"I'm just glad I get to play each week… the coach gives me a task and challenges me regularly so if I don't meet them then there are plenty of other boys who want my jersey," Latu said.
"The coach told me things don't happen unless you put the hard yards in the first 40 minutes, and special plays fall off the back of that with individual acts contributing, and we saw that against the Knights when we just blew them off the park.
"James Tamou has been an awesome influence on not just myself but all the younger forwards.
"He's a great mentor to all of us with his maturity and experience in playing Test footy and Origin alongside some of those Melbourne boys too will help.
"Anything we can take from him we don't take for granted and we know it benefits us moving forward.
"We're just trying to keep everything simple as possible this early on in the season."