The Penrith Panthers bounced back from their narrow defeat to the Parramatta Eels in Round Five as they put in an impressive performance to see off the Melbourne Storm in a thriller at the Campbelltown Stadium on Friday night.
It was a to-and-fro encounter between two of the competitions in-form sides but it was the Panthers who came out on top as they leapfrogged the Storm to climb to third on the NRL ladder.
Story of the match
There was little to separate the two sides on the heading into the match, the Storm with eight points from their first five games whilst the Panthers were just a point further adrift with seven.
The Storm were the slight favourites heading into the fixture, with many pundits praising their defensive game in the early weeks of the season. Only reigning champions the Sydney Roosters and early pacesetters the Parramatta Eels having conceded fewer through the opening five rounds.
Those defensive capabilities were given a stern examination in the opening exchanges of the encounter. They were under the cosh for the majority of the early exchanges as the Panthers dominated possession and field territory, but they couldn't turn that possession into points as the Storms defence held strong.
The Panthers did take a deserved lead in the 17th minute. Hooker Apisai Koroisau running the ball down the left-hand side and drawing the Storm defence before finding Josh Mansour out on the flank. He fired a pass back inside to the supporting Stephen Crichton who raced away to open the scoring. The ever-dependable Nathan Cleary added the extras to give the 'hosts' an early 6-0 lead.
Falling behind seemed to be the wake-up call that the Storm needed as they began to work their way into the game and grabbed their first score of the match ten minutes before half-time as Cameron Munster's flat pass put big second-rower Felise Kaufusi over from close range. Cameron Smith made no mistake with the conversion to bring the scores level.
The Panthers retook the lead via the boot of Cleary after Smith was penalised for blocking the Penrith half-back as he attempted to chase down his own kick. With the clock ticking down the Panthers opted for the two-pointer and Cleary did so successfully to give his side a slender advantage at the break.
The Storm started quickly in the second half, with the boot of Cam Smith causing all sorts of problems, forcing the Panthers into back-to-back goal-line dropouts in the first five minutes of the half as the Panthers defence took an early beating.
Their defensive efforts were rewarded minutes later as the Panthers furthered their advantage through Brian To'o. The Sydney-born winger got on the end of a freeflowing Panthers move, sidestepping Ryan Papenhuzeyn before touching down in the corner. Cleary was again successful with the extras to stretch the Panthers lead to eight - their biggest lead of the night.
The Storm knew that the next score in this contest was going to be crucial to the outcome of the match and it was they who got it just six minutes later, with Munster again at the heart of the attack. The Storm five-eighth firing a perfect double-pumped, flat pass across the Melbourne line to Brenko Lee who spotted a hole in the Panthers defence and crashed over. Cam Smith added the extras to reduce the deficit to just two points.
The Storm were level just two minutes later as Billy Burns was penalised for messing around at the play the ball. Melbourne opted for the shot at goal and Smith duly obliged, nailing the two-pointer to bring the two sides level.
The Panthers looked weary as all the momentum was with the visitors but it was they who retook the lead just moments after the Storm had drawn themselves level. Viliame Kikaku was the man to touch down for Penrith as he got on the end of a perfectly weighted kick from Cleary to put the hosts back in front. Cleary added the extras as the Panthers again lead by six with 15-minutes on the clock.
The try completely shifted momentum once again as the Panthers got themselves back on the front foot. The boot of Nathan Cleary has been the difference for the Panthers on a number of occasions this season and it was no different tonight, as the Penrith half-back nailed a deep field goal with three minutes to go to extend the Panthers lead to seven.
That field-goal would prove to be the final score of the contest as the Panthers inflicted a second defeat of the season on the Storm as they jumped up to the third on the NRL Ladder.
What's next for both sides?
The Panthers will look to take the momentum into Round Seven when they come up against the in-form South Sydney Rabbitohs.
As for the Melbourne Storm, they will be looking to bounce back as they meet the hit-and-miss New Zealand Warriors next Friday night.