The Melbourne Storm put their perfect 4-0 record on the line against aspiring premiership contenders the Penrith Panthers in what shapes to be the match of the round.
The Storm managed to overcome an error-riddled and ill-disciplined first half against Wests Tigers to score 22 unanswered points in their 22-14 win.
The Panthers blitzed the Newcastle Knights 40-0 last Friday and will be eager to break a five-game losing streak in matches against Melbourne.
It will be anticipated showdown between the top-two defences in the NRL. After boasting a league-best defence in 2016, the Storm remain the stingiest side with just 42 points conceded after Round 4. The Panthers trail second in strongest defence with 58 points conceded.
While Penrith will be determined to scalp a major win against the NRL powerhouse, Melbourne will be motivated to rectify last week’s sloppy performance by their own standards.
Why the Storm can win:
Melbourne have dominated Penrith in recent times. The Panthers have won just once in their past 17 encounters with the Storm when they claimed a slender 12-10 victory at home in Round 9, 2013. Melbourne have also won their past six clashes with Penrith at AAMI Park. Craig Bellamy’s side also take plenty of confidence in the fact they were able to achieve last week’s comeback win despite a lacklustre first half. They know they need to be at their focused best from the onset and will be prepared for a driven Panthers side. Their attack is slowly coming together but their defence is resilient enough to clinch games as they have shown with their unbeaten start.
Why the Panthers can win:
Penrith have gone loss-win to start the season and will be keen to claim back-to-back wins after their powerful 40-point thrashing of Newcastle. Moreover, the Panthers will be motivated for a landmark win over last year’s grand finalists in their premiership campaign. Penrith were fuming after a bitter 14-12 loss to rival contenders the Sydney Roosters in Round 2 and this week is their another opportunity to test themselves. The Panthers match the Storm’s defensive tenacity and their forward pack featuring new recruit James Tamou, Reagan Campbell-Gillard and Trent Merrin are firing for their impressive backline to capitalise. If they continue their domination in the forward pack, there’s no reason why Penrith can’t break their six-game losing streak in Melbourne.
Storm v Panthers: Played 31; Storm 24; Panthers 7. History shows the Storm have dominated the Panthers. In their past 17 matches, Melbourne have lost once. Penrith have also lost their past six games at AAMI Park.
What are the odds:
There are mixed messages here from Sportsbet punters – the money is running three-to-one in favour of Melbourne to win the game, yet Penrith 1-12 is the most backed option for winning margin. It all points to a cracking game that could go either way according to the money.
Ashley Klein, Dave Munro. Sideline Officials: Brett Suttor, Jason Walsh. Video Referees: Bernard Sutton, Ben Galea.
Fox League – Live coverage from 7.30pm.
How we see it:
The Panthers are every chance of victory. They possess a premiership-calibre forward pack and feature several rising stars in their backline. It will take a mighty effort to defeat the Storm at AAMI Park and Billy Slater looks to be gradually returning to top form after just two games. It’ll go down to the wire and could go either way. The safe bet is with the Storm. Melbourne by 6.