Digital Image by Ian Knight © nrlphotos.com: Kevin Naiqama (Penrith Panthers) NRL, Rugby League, Round 2, Melbourne Storm v Penrith Panthers @ AAMI Park, Melbourne, VIC, Saturday March 14th, 2014.

In controversial circumstances, the Panthers have lost to the Storm by 1 point at AAMI Park tonight.

The game started well for Penrith and we were just four points behind at the half time break, but a string of penalties and three field goals in the last 5 minutes of the match saw the home side walk away with an 18-17 win. Kevin Naiqama bagged two tries for the mountain men as they stretched the Storm’s defence to breaking point on several occasions, and wet and soggy conditions didn’t help either side in their quest for points.

Here’s how the match played out.

An hour before kick-off we got the news that Idris would be taking the field after overcoming a hamstring strain. But we also had confirmation that Jamie Soward and Dave Simmons would be sitting this one out after suffering injuries in last week’s win over the Knights. That meant a bit of a shake up for Ivan Cleary’s side, with Isaac John coming into the halves and Kevin Naiqama lining up on the wing.

It was a big game for the home side too, with fullback Billy Slater clocking up his 250th game for the Storm and Captain Cameron Smith becoming the club’s most capped player. It was also Cooper Cronk’s first game back after off-season shoulder surgery, and a big crowd of almost 14,000 had turned out at AAMI Park to watch the trio in action.

Rain had started to fall during warm up and continued at a light sprinkle as Matt Moylan kicked off. It was a great start for our Penrith boys who almost had a try 2 minutes into the game when Josh Mansour got the ball on the sideline and charged his way to our goal line, only to be taken out right near the corner post.

The mountain men were dominating the game early and were forcing plenty of errors from the home side. But when Melbourne got up in their half of the field, they made the most of it and put the first points on the board. 10 minutes in, Cooper Cronk got a beautiful ball away to Kevin Proctor, who side stepped and spun on his heel around Matt Moylan, before falling through a gap and over the line. Cameron Smith missed the conversion, so the Storm took a 4-0 lead.

A few minutes later, a bad bounce from the Storm kick-off left Kevin Naiqama in a very precarious position in the in-goal, and he was taken out behind the line. A controversial play-on call from the goal line dropout saw Cooper Cronk keep possession for Melbourne and in the same play, centre Mahe Fonua ran through a tackle attempt by Moylan to get the ball down over the line. Smith’s conversion was waved away again, and the score went to 8-0 after 15 minutes.

At the 20 minute mark, James Segeyaro came into play and had a huge impact! With his first touch, he ran some good metres and earned a penalty. From this, we came agonisingly close to a try, and Mansour did make it over, but he was held up.

It didn’t matter though because we were over in the next play! We sent the ball all the way across the field to the right wing and drew the Storm defenders in, which left Kevin Naiqama unmarked. When the pass made it out that way, he plucked it out of the air and jogged over near the corner post for our first try of the game! Peter Wallace converted from the sideline, and the Panthers were now just 2 points behind, 8-6.

Melbourne answered back a couple of minutes later, again on their right side. Fonua ran out of a Dean Whare tackle and found some space, before offloading to Sisa Waqa who managed to get the ball down as Mansour tackled him. Smith’s kicked was again waved away, so the score went to 12-6, with 8 minutes until half time.

With 5 minutes on the clock, a great kick chase on the 5th by Matt Moylan put Billy Slater off his game completely, and gave Penrith the ball back. A quick play from Elijah Taylor sent the ball right to Idris, who offloaded to Naiqama on the wing, who sailed in for his second try! Wallace missed the sideline conversion, and the Panthers narrowed the score to 12-10.

In the next play, James Segeyaro opened up some space for Wallace who ran 20m before being brought down. Play continued and Tyrone Peachey put a grubber kick in, which reached the in-goal, where Taylor kept Ryan Hoffman behind the line. The goal line dropout almost gave Naiqama his hat trick, but the touch judge ruled a forward pass and play was called back for a scrum on the 10m line.

The Storm then earned themselves a penalty just inside their 30m line as the half time siren went, and they kicked for two.

HALF TIME: 14-10 Storm

Light rain continued for the start of the second half, making conditions a little slippery, but it didn’t seem to phase the Panthers who scored first this half. An early mistake by the Storm gave Penrith the ball, and we got it up to our 20m line. Some great offloads saw the ball hit Moylan’s hands, and he sent it sailing over everyone’s heads out to Mansour on the wing. Mansour then dodged a couple of defenders and spun on his heel to fall over the line for 4 points! Wallace’s conversion missed, so with 45 minutes gone, the score drew level at 14-14.

Things got a little hairy for the Panthers at the 55 minute mark when the home side was awarded a penalty on their 30m line. They hammered away at their line for the next few minutes but the Panthers defence held strong and they couldn’t get through. Then a Storm grubber kick found the hands of Naiqama, and it was Penrith’s ball.

The ball went to the centre of the field to Segeyaro who found some space and made a break for it, sprinting 30m before being pulled down. Wallace was there to pick the ball up but was stopped by Slater, who was then sin binned for a professional foul. The penalty that followed gave Wallace the chance to kick for two from right in front, and for the first time in the match the Panthers took the lead 16-14.

Melbourne put a grubber in on the last, which dribbled horribly for Panthers and stopped just short of the dead ball line. Josh Mansour fumbled on the pick-up and sent it dead, which gave the home side possession. Back to back sets of six for the Storm kept them dangerously close to their goal line, and an obstruction penalty gave them a chance to even the score. Smith’s kick was good, and the scores were level at 16-16. Billy Slater’s time in the sin bin was also up, and he returned to the field with 12 minutes remaining.

As play continued and the rain got heavier, both teams were battling hard to get close to their line, and both came extremely close on several occasions. But it was a controversial ref call on a dropped ball that gave the Storm the chance to kick a field goal from in front and with 5 minutes on the clock Melbourne took a 1 point lead.

Just when the home side thought they had it in the bag, Wallace levelled the score with a field goal of his own, with less than 2 minutes on the clock. That was answered with another one-pointer from Cronk, who took the score to 18-17.

But with seconds on the clock, the Panthers were awarded a penalty for offside and opt to take the kick for two. It’s a big one from the 40m line, and unfortunately, Wallace just couldn’t make it.

FULL TIME: 18-17 Storm