Penrith travel to Melbourne this weekend with a legitimately good chance of toppling the Storm and making it two wins from two starts to the season.
The Panthers’ 30-8 demolition of Newcastle last weekend was impressive, particularly in the second half, and the side will feel confident heading to AAMI Park to play against an opposition that they have the worst record against out of all their NRL rivals.
In fact, the Panthers have beaten Melbourne just seven times in their history and lost 19, though the most recent memory is a good one – a hard fought, slog-it-out victory on a Sunday night at Penrith Stadium last year.
Melbourne come into this game on the back of a grinding, 23-22 golden point victory over Manly at Brookvale Oval; a win that would have given the side plenty of confidence but also drained them physically.
With Cooper Cronk poised to make a comeback this weekend, the Panthers will certainly have their work cut out for them but last weekend’s victory will give them plenty of confidence.
Whilst Ivan Cleary has named the same team that downed the Knights last weekend, some late changes are possible with Jamal Idris and Tim Grant both a good chance of being available.
In Grant’s place, Jeremy Latimore had an impressive game and even grabbed a try to ensure he’ll avoid a nudie run come the end of the season. Should Grant not play again this weekend, Latimore is a more than suitable replacement.
Penrith’s forward pack was too good for Newcastle and after watching all of the first round matches, it’s hard to find a side in the competition that will match Penrith in this regard.
As expected, Elijah Taylor flew out of the blocks, making a game-high 42 tackles and bagging his first try in Penrith colours.
Penrith may have played well but they’ll have to improve a lot this weekend if they are to spoil the Storm’s first home game of the season.
The Storm were buoyed this week with the news that Cameron Smith has re-signed with the club, putting to rest one of the real question marks hanging over Melbourne this season.
If the Panthers are to beat Melbourne, it’ll certainly mean they’ve spoilt a pretty big party down south.
Not only will fans be celebrating Smith’s new deal, but he this weekend becomes the most capped player in the club’s history. Plus, Billy Slater plays his 250th NRL match.
All of that aside, if Penrith let as many opportunities slip this weekend as they did in the first half against Newcastle, the Storm will punish them hard. But there’s no doubt that some of Penrith’s key men will be better for the run last weekend.
James Segeyaro wasn’t his punchy, energetic self on Saturday and I doubt he’ll be quiet two weeks in a row.
Jamie Soward was solid without being the stand-out, and his combination with Peter Wallace will only get better with time. Wallace’s kicking game was excellent and the Panthers showed a patient style in the last 15 minutes of the match that simply didn’t exist before.
As a fan, you feel much more relaxed watching Penrith in the final 20 minutes than ever before – they are cool, calm, collected and generally make the right decisions. That’s thanks largely in part to Wallace who made his Penrith homecoming a superb one last weekend.
Soward played through most of the second half with back spasms but when fully fit he’ll cause oppositions plenty of headaches.
Melbourne in Melbourne is no easy task for any team, and the main aim on Saturday will be to be competitive.
There’s no shame in going down to the Storm at AAMI Park, but going down by a big margin will undo all of the good work of last week’s victory over Newcastle.