Panthers look to continue recent dominance over Storm

Brian To'o celebrates a try against the Storm in 2023. Photo: NRL Images.
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We’ve heard the stat multiple times this week: Craig Bellamy has never lost an opening round fixture as Melbourne coach. It’s an incredible run over some two decades, proving that Bellamy prepares his teams for NRL campaigns perhaps better than anyone else in the game.

But the unique piece of history is unlikely to bother Penrith all that much, who have spent the last three or four seasons re-writing records left, right and centre. In fact, they thrive on such challenges.

“It is a pretty impressive stat; every time we play Melbourne it is always a massive challenge,” Penrith coach Ivan Cleary said this week.

A challenge too at AAMI Park, where Penrith has only beaten Melbourne once in their last eight attempts.

But that statistic is very skewed and almost irrelevant given the Panthers haven’t played there since 2018.

COVID, Magic Round and a brief move to Marvel Stadium means the Panthers haven’t played at Melbourne’s spiritual home in this new era for the club.

Melbourne coach Craig Bellamy. Photo: NRL Images.

In fact, how’s this for a stat – Melbourne hasn’t beaten Penrith in Melbourne since April 2017. I like that one far better.

What was once one of the most lopsided head-to-head counts in modern NRL history has corrected itself in recent times with Penrith winning six of their last eight clashes against Craig Bellamy’s side, including a couple of Preliminary Finals.

The Panthers won’t fear this Friday’s trip to Melbourne and in fact will be champing at the bit to claim a big scalp after their World Club Challenge loss to Wigan a few weeks ago.

It’s obvious a limited preparation could have some impact on Penrith’s start to the season, much like it did in 2023, but as every successful year passes, the Panthers seem to get better at working out where little improvements need to be made to stay on top of their game.

It’s why I think Penrith will actually start this year pretty well – even though they face some tough opponents.

Jarome Luai.

A big plus for the Panthers is the return of Jarome Luai from a shoulder injury. In what will be his final season at the club, Luai is keen leave Penrith on a high like Api Koroisau, Stephen Crichton and Viliame Kikau before him. The fact he’s been named so soon after rehabilitating his shoulder shows how keen he is for a strong farewell.

On the other side of the fence, the Storm have named Cameron Munster but he’s in serious doubt after a bathroom mishap saw his troublesome groin injury flare again.

All eyes will be on Ryan Papenhuyzen, who came through the pre-season games with flying colours and looks ready to finally leave years of injury behind him and reclaim his spot as the game’s most electrifying fullback.

The rise of Reece Walsh, the media obsession with Latrell Mitchell and the consistency of Dylan Edwards means Papenhuyzen has exited the ‘best fullback’ conversation during his period on the sidelines, but I have little doubt he’ll show his blistering best as the season progresses.

Ryan Papenhuyzen has faced a raft of injury worries. Photo: NRL Images.

I’m expecting this to be a low scoring, dour encounter where defence will rule. There will only be a try or two in it.

I have no doubt the Storm will be keen to extend that incredible round one winning record, but I reckon these Panthers will be in a mood to write some more history.

Tip: Panthers by 4.

Penrith play Melbourne at AAMI Park on Friday, March 8 at 8.05pm. The game is live on Fox League and Channel 9.

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