Storm chasers: Panthers look to break AAMI Park hoodoo

Nathan Cleary in action against Newcastle earlier this year. Photo: Melinda Jane
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If you believe that statistics and history define the likely result of a match, you’d be fearful of what awaits the Panthers against the undefeated Melbourne Storm this Saturday night.

The Panthers have never won at AAMI Park in six attempts and have tasted victory in just seven of their 31 games against the Storm. Penrith lose to Melbourne more than they do any other club, with an all-time win percentage of just 22.6 per cent (the next closest being the Roosters at just under 38 per cent).

But despite what the numbers show, there’s plenty of confidence surrounding the Panthers heading into this game, especially on the back of the performances of the respective teams last weekend.

The Panthers were all over Newcastle from the opening minute, failing to surrender a point in the 40-0 trouncing at Pepper Stadium. The Storm, meanwhile, looked out of sorts before finally getting on top of the Tigers to win 22-14 in what was an uncharacteristic performance at Leichhardt Oval.

In the last few days I’ve heard all the reasons why Penrith will apparently finally break their AAMI Park hoodoo.

Isaah Yeo breaks through Newcastle’s defence. Photo: Melinda Jane

“Melbourne look like they are due for a loss” and “It’s our time to finally win down there” are the two leading conversation starters.

Anthony Griffin will be having none of that. He knows that you don’t expect victory against Craig Bellamy’s men, you earn it.

Winning on Saturday night is all about producing a strong performance in both attack and defence, and making very few errors. It’s about not missing that tackle you missed against the Dragons, or dropping that ball you let get away against the Roosters. It’s about committing for the full 80 minutes and frustrating Melbourne to such a point that they have to exit their usual format and push passes they wouldn’t normally push.

So, is this Penrith side ready? One moment against the Knights last weekend suggests it is. And it’s got nothing to do with the 40 points they scored, nor the way they simply kept coming at Newcastle’s line time and time again. For me, the moment that proved this Panthers side has what it takes to beat quality teams came in the 64th minute.

Already up 34-0, when Nathan Ross exploded down the eastern edge of Pepper Stadium, you could have forgiven the Panthers for not chasing hard. But from the shadows came a sprinting Te Maire Martin, running Ross down to save what would have been a certain try. Waqa Blake, James Tamou, Dallin Watene-Zelezniak and a host of other Panthers were nearby too – the chase was ferocious and determined. It was a game-defining moment lost in the big scoreline, but I assure you, it mattered plenty.

Waqa Blake. Photo: Melinda Jane

The spine-tingling performance of Reagan Campbell-Gillard and for that matter the entire Penrith pack proved that they are ready to take on the competition’s most feared heavyweights.

Whatever the result this Saturday night, I have little doubt that the Panthers will be competitive. On the back of a lengthy preparation and confidence-building victory, it may just be time to walk away from AAMI Park as winners.

Tip: Panthers by 4

The Panthers play Melbourne on Saturday, April 1 at AAMI Park. Kick-off is at 7.30pm. 

Te Maire Martin scores for the Panthers. Photo: Melinda Jane

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