Penrith Panthers slipped to a devastating 52-10 defeat at AAMI Park on Friday as Melbourne Storm celebrated Cameron Smith’s milestone in grand style.
The Panthers’ second heavy loss in a fortnight leaves the injury-depleted side in a precarious position outside the top eight with only seven rounds left in the regular season.
As expected, there was a host of late changes. Coach Ivan Cleary named Will Smith to take over at fullback for Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, while Robert Jennings came onto the wing at the expense of the hamstrung David Simmons. James Segeyaro made his return from a knee injury, Api Koroisau moved back to the bench and Sika Manu dropped out of the squad.
The Panthers were immediately on the back foot as they failed to complete their first set and conceded a goal-line dropout. Smith then got his party off to a perfect start with a chip kick that bounced for Cooper Cronk to snaffle and score in the 5th minute. The smoke from the pre-match fireworks had barely cleared and the Storm led 6-0.
On the back of another Penrith handling error, Melbourne were gifted more attacking possession and took immediate advantage. Tohu Harris proved too hard to stop close to the line and despite Smith missing the conversion attempt, the Storm were ahead 10-0 after only ten minutes.
Two sets after the restart a sublime 40/20 from Cronk suddenly thrust the Storm into attack. The Panthers couldn’t scramble in time as Kevin Proctor charged over on the right edge. Smith missed another kick but the scoreline was starting to look ugly for Penrith at 14-0.
The Panthers had no answers for Melbourne’s clinical attack again in the 24th minute as a well-weighted Cronk grubber saw Marika Koroibete claim the Storm’s fourth try of the night.
Penrith were increasingly desperate for points and it showed in their attack as their passes became more reckless and their fifth-tackle options disintegrated.
With four minutes left in the half, Yeo was sent to the sin bin for pulling back Cronk as he pursued a Green chip over the top. Mere seconds later the Storm halfback stepped his way through the line for another converted try and a 26-0 lead at the break.
HALFTIME – Storm 26-0
It only took three minutes of the second half before the Storm picked up where they left off. Koroibete pulled in an attacking cross-field kick from the Panthers and sprinted 90m down the touchline for his second try of the night. Smith’s conversion pushed the score to 32-0.
It seemed all too easy as Melbourne playmaker Blake Green broke into open space and beat Will Smith to the corner for another Storm try in the 52nd minute.
In all the doom and gloom there was a ray of light for the Panthers seven minutes later. Some swift hands and neat footwork from Yeo set up Waqa Blake for a spectacular acrobatic finish. With Soward’s attempted conversion waved away, the score remained 36-4.
Penrith were in again in the 63rd minute as Will Smith cracked the line with a turn of speed and found Tyrone Peachey. With a juggle and a show of strength, Peachey barged over the last defender for the try. Soward made no mistake with the conversion to make the score 36-10.
However that’s where the joy ended for the Panthers. With offloads opening up space galore, Mahe Fonua crashed through for the Storm’s eighth try, then Proctor for their ninth.
Smith capped off the rout in the final minute as another pinpoint kick allowed winger Richie Kennar to touch down for the simplest of finishes.
FULLTIME – Storm 52-10