Storm 18 Panthers 17
Powering through: Tohu Harris of the Storm. Photo: Getty Images
Melbourne Storm spent all week celebrating the career milestones of Cameron Smith and Billy Slater, but the club’s third musketeer took them to victory against Penrith at AAMI Park on Saturday night.
Two Cooper Cronk drop goals, either side of Peter Wallace’s one-pointer for the visitors, gave the Storm a dogged 18-17 win in front of 13,952 supporters.
Dean Whare of the Panthers is tackled by Jesse Bromwich (left). Photo: Getty Images
|View Match Statistics|
|Players||Proctor, Fonua, Waqa||Tries||3||Tries||3||Players||Naiqama(2), Mansour|
|Players||Smith 0/3 (0%)||Conversions||0||Conversions||1||Players||Wallace 1/3 (33%)|
|Players||Smith 2/2 (100%)||Penalty goals||2||Penalty goals||1||Players||Wallace 1/2 (50%)|
|Players||Cronk 2/2 (100%)||Field goals||2||Field goals||1||Players||Wallace 1/2 (50%)|
The win will be treasured by the Storm. Smith broke the club record for games played (263), while Slater played his 250th match.
The Storm quickly found their attacking groove and worked the ball up the field before Cronk dummied inside and hit Kevin Proctor with a pass, the second-rower powering passed the Penrith defence to open the scoring.
On the next set, Smith increased the pressure on the Panthers with his inch-perfect kick stopping in goal. That spur was all the Storm needed as Proctor found Slater, who linked with centre Mahe Fonua to give the Melbourne-raised flyer his first try of the season and the Storm an 8-0 lead.
Cooper Cronk kicks the winning field goal. Photo: Getty Images
After enjoying a long span of possession in the Storm’s half, the Panthers finally scored their first try with 14 minutes to go in the first half, Wallace and Jamal Idris creating an overlap that left Kevin Naiqama in the clear to score in the right corner. Wallace converted to reduce the deficit to two points.
Any foothold the Panthers thought they had gained disappeared within minutes of the restart as the Storm powered back at the visitors. Melbourne created space and a pinpoint Fonua pass gave Sisa Waqa room to score in the corner, and Melbourne led 12-6.
With half-time approaching and the ground still wet from rain, Wallace put a high ball up, which Slater dropped, leaving the Storm powerless to stop the Panthers from going over, Naiqama scoring his second try. Wallace missed his conversion from the sideline and the Storm led 12-10.
Smith landed a penalty shortly before the break for 14-10 lead at half-time.
The Panthers made an ideal start to the second half, a fumble from Jordan McLean giving the visitors the ball on the halfway.
That chance would lead to Josh Mansour’s first try after just a few minutes, although Wallace missed the conversion to leave the scores locked at 14-14.
Wallace landed a penalty to give the Panthers a 16-14 lead, but the Penrith could not push on, the Storm soaking up their attacks, then pushing back. Cronk’s kick from the 40-metre line landed in goal and gained the Storm vital field position. A lucky rebound from a Cronk grubber kick gave Melbourne a third straight set of six and a Panthers penalty close to the line allowed Smith to tie the game at 16-16.
A Ben Hampton kick for Melbourne was knocked on by Idris just 10 metres out with eight minutes left giving the home side their best chance to win.
Cronk took his first chance for a drop goal, sending his flat kick just over the crossbar for a 17-16 lead with five minutes to play.
After Jesse Bromwich made a diving smother on Wallace’s drop goal attempt with three minutes left, the gritty Panther kept his nerve, slotting home his next chance with 90 seconds left to again tie the scores at 17-17.
A late penalty gave Wallace a 42-metre shot for goal after the siren, but his shot went wide.