The Roar
The Roar


Storm warning for competition as Bellamy's streak continues, Panthers question Bunker

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8th March, 2024
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It was the unstoppable force against the immoveable object. The threepeat Panthers, who had won five of their last six against the Storm, facing a Melbourne side who have never lost in Round 1 in Craig Bellamy’s two decades as head coach.

In the end, it was tradition that won out: Melbourne took it 8-0, securing a famous victory on the back of exceptional defence and bucketloads of heart.

For 40 minutes, it was close but far from a classic as both sides struggled to put anything together at all, but in the second, the match became a slugfest between the relentless pressure of the Panthers and the endless resilience of the Storm.

Penrith did break through in the second half with a Soni Luke try, only for the Bunker to find an obstruction in the build up that, in the eyes of Ivan Cleary, seemed soft.

“I’ll be careful about it, but if there’s an obstruction rule then someone has to be obstructed,” he said, cautious not to invite censure.

“They (the Bunker) said that Jahrome Hughes made a defensive decision and once that happens, you know (the rest).

“I guess it’s just one of those things, probably summed up the night really.”


Missing talismanic figures Cameron Munster and Nelson Asofa-Solomona through injury, Melbourne pulled out a classic Bellamy performance, all about collective commitment and maximising opportunity.

Their replacements, Jonah Pezet and Joe Chan, were emblematic of what Bellamy has built.

Pezet provided the kick from which Reimis Smith scored the only try while Chan, in just his second NRL game, did all the clean-up work and effort plays that have defined the coach’s tenure.

Penrith were poor in the first half, but applied the full strangle in the second, throwing everything they had at the line from a basecamp in the Storm half. Melbourne never tapped.

“I don’t do it,” joked Bellamy of the record.

“I’m sitting up in the box. It’s a nice record to have, I suppose. We pride ourselves on what we do in the preseason so we can have a good start.

“I don’t think we even played that well to be honest, but we were really gutsy. There were a lot of tackles to be made in the 20m area and we were out on our feet a few times, but we kept finding a way to keeping turning up.”


One for the purists

They will tell you that this is what the fans want to see, but sometimes when the score is low, it’s because both teams can’t attack very well rather than the sort of exceptional defensive footy that gets the purists going.

Before half time, that was certainly the case. It was real slog: close, sure, but also quite poor.

When Nathan Cleary, Isaah Yeo and Moses Leota are making errors, you know that the Panthers are really, really off their game, and the Storm were just as guilty.

The defences, much as they were tested, were there and thus, the game was played almost exclusively between the red zones. There were 154 play-the-balls in the first half and only 14% of them were inside the 20m at either end.


The Panthers’ game is built on patience and the unshakable confidence that, over a long enough time, they’ll be in the opposing end enough to make things happen, but Melbourne did enough to keep the scoreboard going to add a sliver of doubt into the well-oiled machine.

Bellamy knew this all along. He was adamant that his support staff overrule an on-field decision to play on when presented with two easy points in the first half, ensuring that the Storm got their noses in front.

While Melbourne weren’t great shakes themselves, only scoring with a kick, the conversation was always about whether the Panthers could breach them.

Too often, the attack was chaotic and lacking the usual direction given by Cleary and Yeo: they took inside lines that weren’t on, going where they had already been, forced passes that weren’t there and lost their way on last tackles.

The pattern last year early on was the same.

Penrith took a decent amount of time to get going in attack, even though their defence never really went anywhere, and that saw them lose to St Helens, Brisbane and Parramatta in their first three games.

Wigan, too, shut the door on the Panthers and got the win, just like the Storm did here.


Ivan Cleary would rightly point to how well they were going at the end of the year, but the point remains: two points now are worth the same as in August.

The Panthers won’t worry for a second, and Melbourne won’t read anything into it. But as a self-contained match, it’s a win for the Storm and two on the board.

Taylan May steps up

The brightest spot for the Panthers, without a doubt, was the returning centre Taylan May.

Having missed all of last year with an ACL injury, the Samoan international was something of a forgotten man, toiling away in rehab while Sunia Turuva replaced him and won Rookie of the Year at the Dally M Awards.

It was an award that May himself went close to the year before, proving the talent that he has, but still, many wondered if he would even begin this year given how well Turuva went in his stead and the arrival of Bulldogs centre Paul Alamoti as a like-for-like replacement for Stephen Crichton, who has gone the other way.


This was the first time that May has been named in the centres in the NRL, but it looked like he’d been there his whole life.

In this fixture last year, down the road at Marvel Stadium, Izack Tago was the star for the Panthers as they turned around a deficit to record a statement win.

It was that same edge – Tago took Crichton’s spot on the other side – that offered the most for Penrith, and it was as if May was doing his best impression of the man he replaced.

He had Tago’s low centre of gravity, rotational strength and standing-start speed, offering constant threat all night. The closest Penrith came with a disallowed try that was all about May’s pace and evasion, as well as composure to ice the moment.

It didn’t stand, and after that, the Storm were too good.