Penrith Panthers will be sweating on the return of their injured stars after being humbled 20-nil by Melbourne Storm at Pepper Stadium on Saturday night.
The Panthers delivered a patchy performance, with poor handling and a lack of cohesion in attack keeping them from ever turning the match into a true contest.
Jamie Soward and Nigel Plum were late withdrawals for Penrith, with Tyrone Peachey pairing up with Peter Wallace in the halves. The injuries gifted Adam Docker a return to NRL action while Sam Anderson came onto the bench.
Melbourne also had to contend with late omissions due to injury, as Billy Slater, Kurt Mann and Marike Koroibete all missed out.
There was significant good fortune in Melbourne’s opening try in the 6th minute. Cooper Cronk’s grubber took a wicked deflection off Sika Manu, wrong-footed the defence and handed Blake Green the simplest of finishes from close range.
The Storm extended their lead 10 minutes later as fill-in fullback Cameron Munster pushed off the attempted tackle of Wallace to slide over in the left corner. Smith nailed the conversion from the sideline for a 12-nil lead.
Points went begging for the Panthers as dropped balls and forward passes cruelled their opportunities on the Storm’s line. Even when Peachey was able to force back-to-back dropouts with deft grubbers into Melbourne’s in-goal, errors meant Penrith came away with nothing to show for it.
The Panthers’ best attack of the half came as Isaah Yeo, playing at centre, provided a beautiful flick pass to put Blake in the clear. The young winger sprinted and dived for the line, only to have the ball ripped from his grasp at the final moment.
With three minutes until the break, another Penrith error gave the Storm a golden attacking opportunity and they delivered again. The Panthers’ left-edge defence was suddenly short on numbers and Blake Green crashed over.
For the second week in a row the Panthers were held scoreless in a first half, going to the break staring at an 18-nil scoreline.
A Smith penalty goal opened the scoring in the second half as the Panthers’ disjointed attack continued to deny them points. Even when Peachey took an intercept and broke away on an 80-metre dash, the end result was another cheap turnover.
As the minutes wasted away Penrith’s defence held solid but their desperation going forward only seemed to breed more errors.
With Cronk leaving the field early, the Storm lost some of their punch in the final moments but the fight was well and truly over.
The bye week ahead has clearly come at an opportune time for the Panthers, who will embrace it as a chance to rejig their attack and welcome back some of their injured brigade.