Two things have to happen for the Melbourne Storm to lose at AAMI Park.
First, the Storm have to be off their game, even just a little.
Second, the opposition needs to bring their best possible performance.
Neither of those things happened last Saturday night, with the Storm producing a magnificent effort against a Penrith side that showed they still have plenty to learn if they want to match it with the heavyweights of the competition.
Melbourne are a pleasure to watch, especially now that the wrestling tactics they used to employ have been removed from their game. They turn up in defence time and time again, always one step ahead of the opposition. They are patient – excruciatingly patient – and they have an incredible ability to make the opposition panic. They are a class football team and without doubt the benchmark of the 2017 competition.
The Panthers shouldn’t feel too much shame in losing to such a dominant outfit but there are some question marks around Anthony Griffin’s team that his troops need to address in the next few weeks, to prove that they are indeed a competitor for this year’s title.
It is concerning that against the better sides, the Panthers struggle to score points. Not only did they cross for just one try against the Storm, but against the Roosters a few weeks ago, they also only scored one four-pointer. The better sides seem to be able to read Penrith’s attack and shut down Matt Moylan, who is crucial to creating Penrith’s try-scoring opportunities.
Of course, all of that is somewhat of a moot point this week given the dramatic changes that have occurred to Penrith’s side for tonight’s game.
With Moylan, Waqa Blake and Peta Hiku all missing for disciplinary reasons and Tyrone Peachey suffering a rib injury, the Penrith side that took to the field against the Storm will be vastly different to the one that runs out against Souths.
There is no doubt that with those four players missing, Penrith’s backline looks far less potent and the game is now very evenly poised.
It should also be pointed out that the Panthers have had very little opportunity to train this week. Battered and bruised after the Storm game and with travel thrown in as part of a shortish turnaround, there’s been limited opportunities for this new-look side to get together.
The Rabbitohs found themselves in a similar position to Penrith last weekend. They weren’t necessarily embarrassed by the Cowboys but they weren’t really ever in the game either. They showed glimpses of solid attack and put in a pretty solid defensive effort, but they were a class below Jonathan Thurston’s men.
The key man for Souths last week was Sam Burgess, who ran for 158 metres during his 76 minutes on the field. He is very much leading the forward pack at the moment and will be the key for Souths again against Penrith.
I still believe Penrith can win this game even with the number of players they have missing, but if the Rabbitohs come out swinging early, I can’t see the Panthers successfully playing catch-up.
Tip: Panthers by 2
Troy Dodds is the Weekender’s Managing Editor and Senior Writer. He has more than 15 years experience as a journalist, working with some of Australia’s leading media organisations.