The Melbourne Storm were by no means at their best last night despite the lop-sided 28-6 score-line.
But the premiership favorites handed the pre-season co-favorites a harsh dose of reality if Penrith are to be a serious contender for this year’s title.
The Panthers failed to convert their 58 percent possession into points despite enjoying nearly sixty tackles inside Melbourne’s 20m zone into points, as the result ensures Melbourne remains Penrith’s bogey team, having now lost 18 of the last 19 encounters including all seven games played at AAMI Park.
Storm centre Will Chambers got the better of in-form Panther, Tyrone Peachey on this occasion. (Credit: NRL Photos).
While questions were once again being asked of Penrith’s inability to again score more than one try against quality opposition, Griffin's concern was his team, having worked their way back in the game to trail by just four at the break, didn’t try to grind out a low-scoring result.
But he was more disappointed by Penrith’s failure to match Melbourne’s resilience in defence, having conceded five tries to one and having their defensive line broken on seven occasions to one.
“I thought we had some periods where we built pressure but we did a few things wrong in attack,” Griffin lamented.
“Even though we didn’t get points on the scoreboard we learned that our attack created enough chances to get more points.
“We dropped the ball twice over the line and had one disallowed.
“To their credit they were there (in numbers) a few times as we were going over the line.
“In a game like this against Melbourne you’ve got to have a 10-8 or a 12-10 mind-set and grind out the game just exactly like they did.
“But the thing that disappointed me the most was how easy they got their points.
“We kept releasing pressure with the way they easily got their points and we lost our composure as the scoreboard started to get away from us.”
Melbourne jumped out of the blocks to lead 10-0 inside the opening twenty minutes on the back of nearly seventy percent possession as Will Chambers, aided by some quality inside-work from Cameron Smith, Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk, terrorised Penrith’s indecisive left-edge defence to set up Suliasi Vunivalu for the first of his two tries and scoring one himself.
But possession and territorial advantage soon swung Penrith’s way to trail 10-6 at the break after Peter Wallace and Nathan Cleary created enough space for Te Maire Martin to step inside Slater and crash over for the try, it appeared the away side had all the momentum.
However as often can be the case, the half time break can defuse such momentum.
A debatable penalty against Nathan Cleary for an illegal strip from the second half kick-off invited Melbourne to extend their lead back to ten points in the ensuing set when some soft defence around the middle of the ruck enabled Dale Finucane to offload to a
flying Cooper Cronk to score.
Both Griffin and skipper Matt Moylan thought the try was a pivotal moment in the game.
“At 10-6 we got ourselves back into the game and we were starting to win that battle in the middle,” Griffin said.
“Had it stayed 10-6 early in the second half, I think we would have been right in the game.
“But we conceded that really easy soft try straight after half time and we just panicked thereafter.”
“We needed to have a mind-set to go out there and defend well,” Moylan added.
“We were in the game but we conceded some tries that came a bit too easy and shot ourselves in the foot at times.
“For them to score an easy try like that straight after half time put us on the back foot for the rest of the half.
But having re-established their superiority on the scoreboard, Melbourne as they did in the first half last Sunday against the Wests Tigers, once again went off the boil, making numerous errors coming out of their own half, compounded by several penalties.
For the better part of the next thirty minutes, the Storm had little option but defend their try line as if their lives depended on it.
Melbourne’s defence often rushed the youthful Panthers attack into taking the wrong option, particularly on the last as the Panthers looked hell-bent on going side to side and pushing offloads rather than remaining patient and going straight through the middle of the ruck.
But it easily could have been a very different game had both Moses Leota in the 45th minute and Martin in the 70th minute, not lost possession in reaching out to score.
Equally it might have been different had a try scored in the right corner by Dean Whare following some frenetic last-tackle play in the 63rd minute was allowed to stand but instead it was correctly denied when it was deemed that Tamou had knocked on in stripping possession from Vunivalu’s grasps in the lead-up.
To run salt into Penrith’s wounds following Martin’s lost opportunity to score, a Storm set-play down Penrith’s blind-side from their own 10m line from the ensuing scrum, allowed winger Joshua Addo-Carr to get past Dallin-Watene Zelezniak and Moylan to secure the win, before Vunivalu put the icing on the cake when insufficient evidence could not overturn the on-field try decision.
The disappointing result was matched by the news post-game that Sam McKendry’s partially-torn ACL, failed to respond to rehabilitation, resulting in the prop undergoing back-to-back season-ending surgeries.
But in some encouraging news, James Fisher-Harris (cheekbone) should be right to make an earlier than expected return against South Sydney on Friday night while Bryce Cartwright remains a good chance of playing either against the Rabbitohs or the following Sunday against the Sharks.
PENRITH 6 (T Martin try; N Cleary 1 goal) def. by MELBOURNE STORM 28 (S Vunivalu 2, W Chambers, C Cronk, J Addo-Carr tries; C Smith 4 goals) at AAMI Park. Crowd: 15,223. Half-time Melbourne 10-6. Goal-kickers: N Cleary (Penrith) 1 goal from 1 attempt; C Smith (Melbourne) 4 goals from 6 attempts.