‘Monstered’: Panthers join legendary teams in brutal prelim beatdown

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The Penrith Panthers have annihilated the Melbourne Storm in a brutal beatdown to move one win from a third straight premiership after qualifying for a fourth straight Grand Final.

The Panthers 36-4 win leaves the side on the verge of history with a chance to become the first team since the 1981-83 Parramatta Eels and first in the NRL era to win three straight premierships.

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The Panthers have become just the fifth team to make four straight grand finals along with the the 2006-09 Storm, the 1981-84 Eels, the 1967-71 Rabbitohs and the 1956-66 Dragons.

Having forged a rivalry from the 2020 Grand Final won by Melbourne and the 2021 prelim won by the Panthers, the Storm tried to rattle the cage of the Panthers.

After Penrith scored first through Brian To’o in the third minute, the Storm hit straight back through Justin Olam in the 10th minute.

With the likes of Nathan Cleary needing a scan for a finger injury at training early in the week, Jarome Luai coming back from a dislocated shoulder and Izack Tago returning from a pec injury, it looked like the Storm were going to target the injuries.

Olam scored by bursting through Tago.

But at 4-all in the 18th minute, Melbourne’s Nelson Asofa-Solomona pushed Cleary to the ground well after he passed it.

While it would have been pretty soft, incidents similar had been sin binned throughout the season.

When Referee Adam Gee had said the word “sin bin” which had the commentators on edge as the bunker reviewed.

Ultimately he didn’t send the big Melbourne forward, but he left the ground anyway after his first stint.

Referee Gee had a warning for both teams after the incident, saying if the teams kept coming together, there would be sin bins.

But it was the gamble the Storm had to make.

Former Storm star Cooper Cronk said: “I don’t know if that’s a sin bin if that’s what it’s for. That’s not a sin bin.”

Matthew Johns said that as a playmaker getting hit from the inside can unnerve a player, and that was what they needed to do with Cleary.

Dan Ginnane said that the two points it cost the Storm “could be worth the price”.

For Andrew Johns on Channel 9: “It is one thing to be aggressive… That is just stupid.”

It turns out Joey was right as the moment appeared to ignite the Panthers.

From the 20th minute, the Panthers scored five unanswered tries and blew the Storm away in the club’s biggest ever finals win.

The fourth try that went to Nathan Cleary was the most indicative of the game as Storm superstar Cameron Munster was monstered by Liam Martin in a brutal fend as the second rower charged towards the line, drawing Storm fullback Nick Meaney before putting his No. 7 over.

“That’s a good defender in Cameron Munster,” Andrew Johns said on Nine.

Whoever wins between the Broncos and Warriors on Saturday night will have a job to do if they want to get through the Panthers.

9.33pm — And another one

The Panthers will undoubtedly going into the grand final as favourites as they put the Storm to the sword.

Talk of an ambush never eventuated and the Panthers scored a sixth try with 10 minutes to goal.

It was Brian To’o’s second NRL hattrick and if it stays at this score, it’ll eclipse the club’s biggest ever finals win.

9.11pm — Munster monstered in brutal blow

The second half had gone into a bit of a holding pattern but the Panthers have extended the lead.

After Jarome Luai danced across the line, he threw the ball to Liam Martin, who isolated Cameron Munster and left him on the ground with a brutal fend.

“That’s a good defender in Cameron Munster,” Andrew Johns said on Nine.

Martin then found Nathan Cleary on the inside and it’s now 24-4 with 25 minutes left.

And immediately the Panthers scored again with Dylan Edwards sliding over.

Down the left hand side, Stephen Crichton flicked to Sunia Turuva, who streaked down the sideline and back in to Edward to score.

It’s now 30-4.

8.50pm — ‘He’s killing them’: Panthers on track for history

If the Storm thought they were going to get under the Panthers’ skin, they may have called this one wrong.

The Panthers have played in the last three grand finals, losing to the Storm in 2020 and then winning the next two — if they thought Penrith were going to wilt under the pressure they underestimated their opponents.

Halfway though the first half with scores locked at 4-all, Storm enforcer Nelson Asofa-Solomona pushed Nathan Cleary to the ground.

It was a moment that Matthew Johns said may rattle Cleary, as no playmaker likes getting hit from the blindside.

But rather than play within himself, Cleary has once again pulled all the strings.

“Leading the way, what a 40 minutes from their halfback,” Michael Ennis said.

“He is absolutely killing them with detailed execution, ball movement and unrelenting pressure.”

The other issue for the Storm is the possession.

The Panthers have had 54 per cent of the ball, with 22 from 23 or 95 per cent possession, the Storm are 11 from 17 for 64 per cent.

Greg Alexander added the age old rugby league cliche: “You can’t win without the ball.”

8.30pm — ‘Stupid’ act backfires spectacularly

But did the push pay off for Melbourne?

Seemingly not as To’o scored his second and Sunia Turuva scored his first of the night to open an 18-4 lead after 29 minutes.

When Asofa-Solomona went off after the moment, it was 4-all, before the Panthers kicked a penalty goal from the ensuing penalty.

If the Storm were trying to rattle the Panthers, it doesn’t look like it worked.

8.16pm — ‘Stupid’ act divides NRL

Melbourne have a clear aim in tonight’s game and it’s to rattle the Panthers.

The match has been a bit of a tinder box as the teams have come together to push and shove.

But it nearly elevated above that when Nelson Asofa-Solomona pushed Nathan Cleary well after the Panthers half has passed the ball in the 18th minute.

Referee Adam Gee had said the word “sin bin” which had the commentators on edge as the bunker reviewed.

Ultimately he didn’t but NAS left the field anyway to complete his first stint on the field.

Referee Gee had a warning for both teams after the incident, saying if the teams kept coming together, there would be sin bins.

“It is one thing to be aggressive… That is just stupid,” NRL legend Andrew Johns said on Nine’s coverage.

But on Fox, they weren’t so sure.

Former Storm star Cooper Cronk said: “I don’t know if that’s a sin bin if that’s what it’s for. That’s not a sin bin.”

Matthew Johns said that as a playmaker getting hit from the inside can unnerve a player.

Dan Ginnane said that the two points it cost the Storm “could be worth the price”.

8.05pm — Storm fire back

Melbourne are on the board with Justin Olam slicing through the retuning Izack Tago.

Tago has been out through injury but after the Storm went left, Olam powered past his man, pushing the Panthers centre away with ease.

The Panthers had been talking about Jarome Luai’s injury all week but Brad Fittler said it showed Tago, who was returning from a pec injury, may also be in the Storm crosshairs.

“I don’t know if Justin knew which part of his body was injured, but he hit it absolutely perfect,” Fittler said.

“He just sent a signal to the Melbourne Storm that Jarome Luai isn’t the only target in the black jersey.”

7.57pm — Easy as you like, the Panthers are in

The Storm had a great first set, bumping their way up field in a strong start.

But after giving the Panthers a sniff with a penalty to get out of their own end, the two-time defending champs are in first.

It was as somple as you like as the ball went from midfield to Nathan Cleary, Dylan Edwards and then onto To’o to score in the corner.

7pm — Panthers confirm Luai is in

The Panthers will line up 1-17 for the preliminary finals with Jarome Luai’s comeback officially confirmed.

For the Storm however, there have been a few changes.

Harry Grant and Christian Welch have dropped back to the bench, with Bronson Garlick and Nelson Asofa-Solomona will start in a similar move to last week.

Garlick was named in No. 19 during the week but will start in Grant’s place at hooker, while Asofa-Solomona will bring the fire in the early exchanges.

It sees Tyran Wishart, who started at halfback for Jahrome Hughes in the semi-final, drops off the bench to 18th man.

PANTHERS: 1. Dylan Edwards 2. Sunia Turuva 3. Izack Tago 4. Stephen Crichton 5. Brian To’o 6. Jarome Luai 7. Nathan Cleary 8. Moses Leota 9. Mitch Kenny 10. James Fisher-Harris 11. Scott Sorensen 12. Liam Martin 13. Isaah Yeo

Bench: 14. Jack Cogger 15. Lindsay Smith 16. Spencer Leniu 17. Luke Garner.

18th man: 18. Tyrone Peachey

STORM: 1. Nick Meaney 2. William Warbrick 3. Marion Seve 4. Justin Olam 5. Reimis Smith 6. Cameron Munster 7. Jahrome Hughes 8. Tui Kamikamica 19. Bronson Garlick 16. Nelson Asofa-Solomona 11. Trent Loiero 12. Eliesa Katoa 13. Josh King

Bench: 9. Harry Grant 10. Christian Welch 15. Tom Eisenhuth 17. Tariq Sims.

18th man: 14. Tyran Wishart

6.30pm — ‘Arrogance’: Why NSW snubs Panthers

What else do the Panthers need to do to get everyone on the bandwagon, NSW?

The back-to-back minor premiers are a home grown team who has thrived despite losing key players each year.

However, it appears the only thing the Panthers can’t seem to win is the hearts of their own fellow New South Welshmen.

Having reached the preliminary stages of the NRL finals with teams representing Melbourne, Brisbane and New Zealand left in the comp, it’s the Warriors who have captured the imagination of the league.

It was shown as the Broncos-Warriors prelim on Saturday at Suncorp Stadium — the ground which consistently has the highest attendance in the NRL — sold out in an hour.

The Panthers match with the Storm however is expected to be less than half of the 83,500 capacity.

Although it’s not uncommon for prelims at the ground to have between 45-60,000 fans in, it also points to how the Panthers haven’t built the bandwagon.

When the club’s social media team posted a TikTok urging NSW fans to “hop on-board”, many of the comments were about the Warriors.

To be fair, the Panthers did cast themselves as Lord Voldemort in the Harry Potter series, which may have been a weird choice.

Even coach Ivan Cleary sarcastically joked during the week: “Everyone loves the Panthers, don’t they?”

The club’s CEO Matt Cameron himself said he was baffled that the Panthers hadn’t brought along more Sydney fans.

“I wonder if people have misconstrued the boys’ confidence as arrogance,” he said.

“Having said that, I can assure you that is not the case. You only have to look at the way they engage with fans in the community and after games – I’ve received hundreds of emails from fans praising our players.”

Maybe it’s the perceived arrogance — I mean how many premierships do you have to win before you can be a bit cocky — or it may be tall poppy syndrome, or any other excuse around. Greg Alexander believes it’s the return of rugby league “tribalism”.

Whatever it may be, it seems strange when the current Panthers era may be one of the greatest in the history of the game.

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