Melbourne Storm coach Craig Bellamy has broken his silence over the club’s white-powder saga, saying his players were well aware of their actions.
The Penrith Panthers have avenged their grand final defeat from last season, defeating the Melbourne Storm 10-6 to punch their ticket to next week’s grand final.
In a highly entertaining match that was far more entertaining than the low score suggested, both sides showed off incredible defensive ability to repel seemingly countless opportunities.
But it was two tries – both coming early in each half – that proved the difference.
There was controversy in the opening minutes, after a Melbourne trainer stopped play with Penrith in an attacking position – echoing the controversy from last week’s Panthers-Eels semi-final.
There was no doubt Christian Welch needed attention after a clash of heads, but the fact Welch didn’t leave the field of play generated significant discussion.
It didn’t cost the Panthers, however. Nathan Cleary surprised everyone with a quick kick to the sideline before the last tackle – finding an unmarked Stephen Crichton for a stunning early try.
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The Panthers were up and about, with Tevita Pangai Jr, in particular, getting in Welch’s face often in the early going. Welch eventually left the field for a head injury assessment in the ninth minute, while Brandon Smith also suffered the same fate soon after.
Melbourne had the run of play from there, but were uncharacteristically sloppy with the ball and made three early errors. George Jennings – who dropped a kick earlier to set up the Crichton try – fumbled a perfect pass that would’ve put him in for the easiest of tries. An errant kick a few minutes later defused another promising foray forward.
Penrith wasted a chance of their own at the other end after Dylan Edwards ignored some outside runners. Nelson Asofa-Solomona looked to have scored a few minutes later with a spectacular swan dive for the line, but replays clearly showed an obstruction on Scott Sorensen by Dale Finucane and the score was rubbed off.
The big moment of the first half, however, might be Cleary being placed on report for a dangerous tackle on Kenneath Browmich – although he’s likely to escape suspension given Bromwich landed on his back.
There was more controversy later on, with Jarome Luai dropping the ball and leaving the field following high contact from Cam Munster – but the Storm somehow escaped a penalty.
The scoreboard may have deceived you into believing it was a boring first half – but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Both teams had excellent chances to score all half, but incredible defensive efforts from both clubs kept the score at 6-0.
The intensity clearly got to the players as well, with the last few minutes filled with handling errors as they simply ran out of gas.
It was deja vu in the second half, with a Melbourne error – this time a Justin Olam knock-on – giving the Panthers an early chance. Great passing to the left wing saw them take that chance, with Brian To’o crossing in the corner for an easy try to extend the advantage.
THE PANTHERS POUNCE ???? To'o takes them to double digits! ???? #NRLStormPanthers
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The Storm were battered and bruised and looked destined for defeat when Jahrome Hughes went off with a knee injury.
But they managed to finally get themselves back on the scoreboard after a deft kick from Cam Munster allowed Ryan Papenhuyzen to pounce.
17 minutes to go and Papenhuyzen scores the Storm's first try!
Will the Panthers hold their lead? ????#NRLStormPanthers
???? BLOG https://t.co/Wcs0EIbJir
???? MATCH CENTRE https://t.co/PLHlaEOyTQ
???? WATCH via @kayosports https://t.co/ZPyNm9H9Fs pic.twitter.com/COwWIdUB7e
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We were set for a grandstand finish, with a pivotal moment coming just inside the final ten minutes when Jennings knocked on another high kick – although this one was a close one that was almost overturned on a captain’s challenge.
It gave the Panthers the ball inside ten metres with a full set. They got a set restart too – but the Penrith defence held firm and withstood every tackle.
Then, with some excellent field position in the dying minutes, a Kurt Capewell knock-on from the play-the-ball gave the Storm the ball back at midfield – and then the Panthers gave away a penalty on the first tackle.
Melbourne Storm – 6
Penrith Panthers – 10
Storm: Papenhuyzen 56′
Panthers: Crichton 2′, To’o 42′
Storm: Panehuyzen 1/1 (56′)
Panthers: Cleary 1/2 (4′)