Storm look for fast start against Panthers
While the Melbourne Storm await the fitness tests of Suliasi Vunivalu and Jordan McLean on Friday night, coach Craig Bellamy is focused on his side improving their first-half performance after an uncharacteristic poor start against the Wests Tigers last week.
The Storm overcame a 14-0 deficit to keep their perfect record intact but Bellamy insists they can't afford another lapse against aspiring premiership contenders the Penrith Panthers on Saturday night.
"If we do [have another poor start], we'll have more than 14 points to chase," Bellamy said. "The way we started the first 10 minutes last week – I can't remember the last time we started a game like that.
"Hopefully it's a good learning experience for us or wake-up call."
History is against the Panthers. The mountain men have won just once in their past 17 clashes when they claimed a slender 12-10 victory at home in Round 9, 2013. Melbourne have also won their past six clashes with Penrith at AAMI Park.
"I can't explain (the lopsided record)," Bellamy said. "There's some clubs you have a good record against and next week you might have a bad record.
"At the end of the day, what happened three or five years ago doesn’t matter now. It's about what happens tomorrow night."
Melbourne put their NRL-best defence on the line against the second-ranked defence in Penrith, who have also scored the second-most points in the competition. In 2016, the Panthers conceded 463 points (19.3 points per game) and have so far only allowed 58 points (14.5 points per game).
After a bitter 14-12 loss to the Roosters under somewhat controversial circumstances, the uprising Panthers will be motivated for another opportunity to claim a landmark victory against last year's grand finalists and minor premiers.
"Penrith are a hard side to defend against with the way they play their footy," Bellamy said. "Finding a few ways to crack them isn’t going to be easy.
"While they have improved their defence, a lot of emphasis is on their attack and how they do it.
"They're really dangerous. It's something we're aware of and we need to work really hard."
It will also be Billy Slater's third game back, and after early impressing signs, there's already suggestions of international selection for the Kangaroos in the upcoming ANZAC Test.
"His involvements have been very good in the last two games," Bellamy said. "As we go on, we expect a bit more involvement.
"He's only played one-and-a-half games. We're not expecting too much early but we're really happy with what's he's been doing out on the field."