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All-time best attack v defence: Unstoppable force meets immovable object

Saturday night's Storm-Panthers clash shapes as the unstoppable force meeting the immovable object, as the best ever attack and all-time greatest defence of the NRL era go head to head.

Melbourne's 652 points is the biggest tally ever racked up after 18 matches in the history of first-grade rugby league in this country. It is easily the most of any team of the NRL era, bettering the 2002 Warriors and Knights by almost 100 points, with this year's Rabbitohs the fourth-best ever.

Meanwhile, Penrith's 185 points is the fewest to ever be conceded by any side of the NRL era, with the 2010 Dragons the only other club to have let in fewer than 200 points after 18 games.

There have been a handful of sides since four-point tries were introduced in 1983 to maintain a slightly tighter defence through 18 games, with the 1997 Super League Sharks (176 points conceded in 18 games), the 1996 Sea Eagles (151 and the best of the modern era) and 1989 Rabbitohs (179) the teams to keep a tighter defence through 18 games. 

Before that you have to go back to three-point tries and the great Roosters teams of the mid-70s and legendary St George sides of the 1960s for a better defensive record.

Admittedly Penrith's staunch defence will be tested not just by Melbourne's irrepressible attack but by the absences of a host of stars, including defensive stalwarts Isaah Yeo and James Fisher-Harris.

Nathan Cleary's absence will also be key - he's not just the form playmaker of the NRL but one of the game's best defensive halves. Stats has taken a look at some areas each team could look for an advantage.

In almost every key team-wide metric available, one of these two clubs is the best in the NRL this year and in most of those, the other side is second or third best.

Simply put, the level of dominance of these two teams compared to the other 14 sides this year is remarkable.

The Storm have scored 40 or more points in a match a remarkable 11 times this year. Winger Josh Addo-Carr scored an historic six tries in one game against Souths in round nine and has 21 for the season, with only Rabbitoh Alex Johnston (24) ahead of him.

"I think I have fun playing footy every weekend, training every day," he said of his try-scoring exploits this year.

"It's such a good bunch of boys to be alongside [in the backline] and I just think it goes to show that we care about each other on the field.

"It just shows every week. We train really hard in the pre-season and during the season to score tries and do all our plays.

"We do so much repetition during the week, every day, and that's why we get so excited about scoring tries because we work so hard on it."

Panthers fullback Dylan Edwards believed limiting the Storm's key playmakers would go a long way to restricting their free-flowing attack.

"You just look at their halves and their hookers," Edwards said.

"They're obviously great ball-runners, they play eyes-up footy and play what they see so they're a big key to what they do so we'll be looking to try and limit them as much as we can."

Forward Kurt Capewell hoped for some defensive improvement after a couple of weeks below the Panthers' own lofty standards.

"In the two years since I've been at the club defence has definitely been a priority for us," Capewell said.

"Unfortunately the last couple of weeks we've missed the mark on that. We're doing everything we can to get better each game. We're missing a little bit of connection there in defence but we'll work on that and hopefully come out and shut down Melbourne this week."

Storm v Panthers - Round 20

Yardage game

The Storm make the third-most metres per game of any team but are No.1 when it comes to metres per yardage set and defensively they concede the fewest metres per match of any club.

Penrith meanwhile make the most metres of any club from their back three players, largely off the back of tireless winger Brian To'o. They make the most overall metres per week and concede the third fewest.

Tackling and defence

Neither side is a standout for overall tackle percentage, showing that being bounced out of a tackle is not the end of the world – rather it is how your line holds up and recovers that counts.

When it comes to line break causes by player, the Panthers have accrued easily the fewest, with 122, while the Storm are the next best with 134.

The Panthers also like to make a statement with their defence, making the most dominant tackles of any club this year with 222 while the Storm have the seventh-most with 131.

The Bellamy effect: How he gets best out of players

Kicking and kick defence

The Storm are third best when it comes to total kick defusals and Penrith fifth, a rare stat not dominated by these two clubs, although the Storm are best for defusals by the back three.

Penrith force the most repeat sets of any club while the Storm are sixth, although around a third of Penrith's repeat sets have been forced by Cleary, who will be missing this week.

Penrith's 577 metres gained from kicks per week is just one metre off joint leaders Parramatta and Canterbury, in spite of how much time in games they spend camped in their opposition's red zone.

Match Highlights: Panthers v Storm

Ruck infringements

Each of these clubs has given away 19 six-again calls on play zero or two, the equal most in the NRL, showing a willingness to give up an inexpensive set restart to ensure opposition teams have to work if off their line against a fresh and well set defensive line.

Each club has given away just six late-set (play four or later) ruck infringements, with only the Sharks (four), Eels, Raiders and Rabbitohs (all five) giving away fewer late in sets.

Acknowledgement of Country

National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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