Penrith proved their dominance in the NRL with a stunning comeback against Melbourne Storm, securing a 34-16 victory in Melbourne on Friday night. Despite missing star player Nathan Cleary, the Panthers showcased their strength and resilience, fighting back from a 14-0 deficit to claim the win. The match took place at Marvel Stadium, with the Storm returning there after 13 years due to AAMI Park being prepared for the FIFA Women’s World Cup. The game attracted a crowd of 26,703, witnessing a clash between two of the top teams in the competition.
The victory propels the Panthers to a record of 11-5, allowing them to share the top spot on the ladder, while the Storm‘s record falls to 10-6. The Storm will have a bye in the following weekend. In the early stages of the game, Melbourne controlled the field, taking a comfortable 14-0 lead. However, the Panthers, despite missing Cleary due to injury, took control of the match just before half-time and continued to dominate in the second half.
A standout performer for the Panthers was centre Izack Tago. Tago had an exceptional game, scoring two tries, setting up another, and making an impressive 12 tackle breaks. The Panthers managed to overpower the Storm in both attack and defense, a feat rarely seen against Melbourne, whether playing at home or away. The Storm struggled with 11 errors and poor completion rate, finishing only 26 out of 38 possessions (68%).
Unfortunately for the Storm, they faced further challenges as emerging winger Will Warbrick suffered a concussion after a collision with Tago in full flight. Despite this setback, Harry Grant and Nelson Asofa-Solomona put up a strong fight for the home side. The game also saw an early display of intensity as Panthers‘ star Jarome Luai was put on report for a tackle on Storm halfback Jahrome Hughes during a high kick. Queensland star Grant immediately took exception to the tackle, briefly sparking a potential altercation before tempers simmered down.
Both teams struggled with completing their sets, with the Panthers initially struggling to hold onto the ball and the Storm experiencing fumbles in the latter stages of the first half. Grant’s impressive kick smother resulted in the Storm‘s first try, as he leapt full-stretch, intercepted Jack Cogger‘s kick, and scored. The Storm extended their lead to 14-0 when Reimis Smith‘s flick pass allowed Asofa-Solomona to barge over and score, despite replays suggesting the ball was knocked from his grasp. However, the Bunker ruled in favor of the Storm, maintaining the try.
Nonetheless, the Panthers swiftly made a comeback. Meaney was deemed to have interfered with centre Stephen Crichton‘s try attempt, resulting in a penalty try and narrowing the Storm‘s lead. Just two minutes later, Tago powered over the line after receiving a pass from Luai, bringing the score to 14-10 in favor of the Storm. Tago’s late tackle on Hughes, displaying apparent use of his shoulder, may warrant scrutiny from the match review panel.
In the closing moments of the first half, the Storm failed to secure a high ball, allowing Lindsay Smith to knock the ball backwards to Liam Martin, who scored. Crichton converted the try after the siren, giving the Panthers a 16-14 lead and leaving Storm coach Craig Bellamy frustrated.
The second half began with Luai being ruled offside, resulting in Meaney’s second penalty goal and a tied score of 16-16. Tago continued to shine, scoring his fifth try in four games after sprinting through Warbrick. Warbrick suffered a head injury from the collision and appeared to be concussed. Tago’s try extended the Panthers‘ lead to 22-16.
In the 61st minute, Tago again proved instrumental as his desperation kick on the fifth tackle found Zac Hosking, who had a clear path to the try line. This extended the Panthers‘ lead to 28-16. Brian To’o sealed the win with a late try, securing a comprehensive victory for the Panthers.
With this impressive comeback victory, the Panthers have cemented their status as the team to beat in the NRL. Their ability to overcome a significant deficit and defeat a strong Storm side highlights their determination and skill. Despite being without Cleary, the Panthers showcased their depth and resilience, leaving their competitors with a clear message: they are the team to watch in the NRL.