Melbourne Storm 30-20 Penrith Panthers

Persistent rain couldn’t dampen a resolute Melbourne Storm today as it edged out a fast-finishing Penrith Panthers to the tune of 30-20 at Olympic Park.

It was another less than perfect performance, but coach Craig Bellamy was content with the two points.

“We’re happy with the position we are table-wise, but we know that we can play a little bit better,” said Bellamy.

“I’d still rather have a team like this where we’re not playing as good as we can skill-wise, but we’ve got a bit of intestinal fortitude.

“I thought our defence was pretty good, but we came up with some errors from individuals that let us down a bit, but these guys are willing to defend their errors and they did it again tonight.”

No better example of the soaked conditions was the Storm’s choice to take two points from a penalty in the 5th minute of the match instead of attacking the try-line as is their custom.

Penrith started the game with the enthusiasm of a team in need of a win. After making their way deep into the Storm’s half, a Craig Gower kick eventually found Luke Lewis who picked up the crumbs from a Steve Turner/Michael Gordon marking contest and scored out wide.

The Storm hit back minutes later thanks largely to a Goliath-like Ben Cross. Just metres from the try-line, ‘Ivan’ stood tall, shrugged off three defenders and popped a pass to Smith. With Penrith’s defensive line fractured, the crafty hooker linked with Copper Cronk to get Melbourne back in the match.

If Smith was feeling any ill effects from his Kangaroo commitments, it didn’t show. He was involved with everything in the first half, including a stabbing grubber that eventually brought Melbourne’s second try. Penrith five-eighth Peter Wallace looked to have the ball covered, but it ricocheted of his hands and into the grasp of Ryan Hoffman. The try-hungry second-rower juggled, dived, slid, flipped and eventually got the ball down. Olympic diving judges probably would have awarded him more than four points.

Smith missed the conversion, but Melbourne went into the sheds ahead 12-8.

The difficult conditions made razzle dazzle take a back seat for most of the match, but the Storm couldn’t help but open the second half with a touch of class.

A rampaging Sam Tagataese – who grows in confidence with each match he plays at the top level – broke the Panthers line and got the ball to Dallas Johnson. As a mob of Penrith defenders converged, he offloaded to Cronk who streaked away to score under the black dot.

The next visit the Storm had in Panthers’ territory gave Cameron Smith another opportunity to take the spotlight. With the try-line metres away, he dummied and burrowed across the line for a number 9 special.

Penrith are famous for their late-game comebacks and when a Frank Pritchard try made the scores 24-14 with fifteen minutes to go, Melbourne couldn’t afford any more dropped ball or defensive lapses. Then, disastrously for the home side, Antonio Kaufusi knocked-on ten metres out from the Storm line. The ensuing scrum saw the Panthers’ Michael Jennings score out wide providing a nail-biting finish.

With things as bleak as the weather, it came as no surprise to see Cameron Smith wrestle back the momentum. His 73rd minute try came as a great relief to the 9,909-strong crowd, who had been all but silenced by Penrith’s spirited counter-attack. On this occasion, Smith dummied from ten metres out and launched himself to victory. With Pritchard and Joel Clinton hanging on, the slick surface helped to carry him and the ball to the try-line.

Bellamy was full of praise for Smith, and might be disappointed that the Logan junior can’t play an elite game of football before next Friday’s clash against the Broncos. The original plan was for Smith to be rested at the end of the first half and beginning of the second, but when injuries struck Garret Crossman and Cross, the coach had no choice but to keep him on.

“He’s like the old baby blanket, he’s so reliable, you want him out there. His performance was wonderful,” said Bellamy.

Melbourne Storm 30 (Tries: Cronk 2, C. Smith 2, Hoffman; Goals: C. Smith 5) def.  Penrith Panthers 20 (Tries: Lewis, Pritchard, Jennings; Goals: Gordon 4) 

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