NRL Magic Round 2022: Penrith Panthers defeat Melbourne Storm, latest news, score
Storm coach Craig Bellamy conceded his injury-hit team “got what we deserved” in a record loss to premiers Penrith, who regained top spot on the NRL ladder.
The relentless Panthers showed no mercy to crush an understrength Storm with halves Jarome Luai and Nathan Cleary providing the polish in a punishing 32-6 win to regain the competition lead.
On fire back-rower Viliame Kikau provided the power and panache in the top of the table clash and the Storm had no answers to his array of skills. Moses Leota, Isaah Yeo and the Panthers forwards as a unit dominated.
All-round it was as good a performance as coach Ivan Cleary, watching from Sydney after undergoing a knee operation, could have hoped for.
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It was Penrith’s biggest win over Melbourne in NRL history, and the Storm’s largest defeat against any side since 2014.
Already without Ryan Papenhuyzen and Reimis Smith due to injury, the Storm lost star half Jahrome Hughes on game day to a calf complaint. Marion Seve (centre), Cooper Johns (half) and Tui Kamikamica (bench) were all playing their first NRL games of the season and the fast and clinical play of the Panthers was a shock to their system.
Penrith had their foot on the Storm’s throat early to take a 12-0 lead inside 11 minutes and never took it off.
One piece of flying Fijian wizardry by Kikau lit up the stadium. Cleary put up one of his inch perfect bombs and Kikau, with the agility of a gazelle, leapt above hapless Seve and planted it with the softest of silky hands for a Magic Round try for the ages in front of 46,454 fans.
“It is always exciting to have the challenge of coming up against the Storm who were red hot, and us coming off the back of a loss,” Nathan Cleary said.
“It was a great opportunity for all of us to improve on last week. I thought me and Romey [Luai] combined well, the best in a while. That is a template for us going forward, get him the ball in the right places to do his magic.
“Kiks had a great game. It is freaky some of the things he can do. He is one of the best defensive back-rowers in the comp’ and gets a lot of confidence from that. Then you see his touches in attack. It is hard to stop.”
Cameron Munster, with an anything you can do I can do response, instinctively realised Brian To’o was off his wing and lobbed a corking kick into Nick Meaney’s bread basket.
From then on it was a massacre.
“It is probably a game we needed after three or four weeks where we won really well. That was a good comedown for us tonight and we got what we deserved,” Storm coach Craig Bellamy said. “Perhaps we weren’t going as good as other people thought. Hopefully we will learn from that.”
Nathan Cleary’s 12 points from six goals took him to 1108 career points, past Greg Alexander (1104) and behind only Ryan Girdler (1572) on Penrith’s all-time point scoring list.
After being unhappy with aspects of his play in last week’s loss to the Eels the Panthers half was back to his best and in combination with Luai, who set up two tries himself, controlled the game from start to finish.
Kikau’s contribution to the win was huge. Asides from his incredible try his pressure on new Storm fullback Tyran Wishart, who had a very unhappy night, forced an error and Izack Tago swooped for his second. He was even alert enough to defuse Munster kicks. Kikau’s freakish ball skills put Luai over after the break and each of his incisions made a difference.
BACK FIVE BLITZ
The power of Penrith’s back five is a lethal weapon. Dylan Edwards, Taylan May, Tago, Stephen Crichton and Brian To’o had 19 tackle breaks between them by half-time compared to their opponents’ two. It was an opening backfield blitz that was too hot for the Storm to handle.
MUNSTER LONE HAND
Without his two playmaking mates in the spine, the Storm genius did everything in his power to make a difference and dipped into all his tricks. It often didn’t get the result he was after but Munster’s desire this year is just as impressive as his skill.
On one play he stood his ground near the tryline as Crichton charged straight at him. How he stopped him and held him up is anyone’s guess. The problem for Munster was that his forwards were completely outgunned on a night where the Storm missed 39 tackles.
Storm’s bold gamble misfires
All it took was one dropped ball to turn Magic Round into Tragic Round.
The saddest sight on a gripping night of rugby league at Suncorp Stadium was the image of Melbourne fullback Tyran Wishart, face down with his head buried in the soddened turf.
Wishart was a surprise choice to replace the injured Ryan Papenhuyzen at the back for the Storm. He tried hard, did his level best but had his night soured by one mistake that handed Penrith control of their blockbuster on Saturday night.
Wishart appeared to have Jahrome Luai’s bomb comfortably covered but averted his eyes momentarily as man mountain Viliame Kikau loomed large. The ball slid through Wishart’s hands and sat up in the in-goal for Izack Tago to score.
Wishart was a picture of devastation. Teammate Trent Loeiro eventually helped him to his feet but the Storm were on their knees. They never recovered.
This was a demolition job as the Panthers went on a second half rampage against a Melbourne side that endured a week of setbacks.
Wishart was asked to play fullback when Papenhuyzen went down with knee and hamstring problems. Only hours before the game, it emerged that halfback Jahrome Hughes had been ruled out with a calf problem.
Losing Papenhuyzen made life difficult. Losing Papenhuyzen and Hughes made it near impossible. Truth be told, Wishart handled the challenge reasonably well, the highlight of his night when he somehow dragged down a runaway Kikau midway through the second half as a try beckoned.
He emerged with his reputation largely intact. The same can’t be said for Melbourne, although Storm fans will no doubt argue that the result was largely irrelevant because of the high-profile absentees.
That would be underselling the Panthers, A week after losing to Parramatta, they sent a premiership reminder. The Panthers were too good. Too fast. Too slick.
They monstered Melbourne in the second half as the Storm spent most of the night camped on their own line.
They were comprehensively beaten, the result no doubt bringing a smile to the face of ailing Penrith coach Ivan Cleary, who watched from home as he recovered from a midweek operation.
The Panthers even had the luxury of removing Luai from the fray with time to play, so comfortable was the victory. By the end of the game, Melbourne were a rabble. As the mistakes mounted, Storm coach Craig Bellamy had an air of resignation about the result.
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Bellamy is normally a raging inferno in the coaches box. As the camera flashed to him after another mistake, there was no seething or spitting spitting. Just a look of abject disappointment.
It is hard to remember a Melbourne side playing this poorly on his watch. Bellamy is expected to make a call on his future in the coming days and this won’t have helped convince him to keep going next year.
Originally published as NRL Magic Round 2022: Penrith Panthers defeat Melbourne Storm, latest news, score