The Panthers return to the NRL Summit after being sent off in a Magic Round



Penrith was cruised by an eroded Melbourne team, removing Storm from the top of the table with an impressive 32-6 victory in the main event of the Magic Round.

In fact, the possibility of a billing-worthy contest might disappear in the ether. Jahrom Hughes was scratched by a calf during lunch, and then confirmed by the almost incessant drizzle that continued throughout the day in Brisbane.

Penrith was not without them out either. Evan Cleary was at home with Cameron Siraldo, who missed out on losing to Paramatman in covid isolation last week, after a second knee surgery in several weeks, pushing the top gig.

With Nathan Cleary, Isaah Yeo and Jerome Louis in this form, however, the game coach is not really important. The instrument goes on and on.

The Panthers were able to show off their offensive talent at times, but never went to Melbourne. They were always likely to miss Ryan Papenhuen – his substitute, Tyran Wishart, played as a bench utility and hooker in previous NRL appearances – but losing Hughes in the game was insurmountable.

That said, no Craig Bellamy team would be happy with a 70% lower completion rate, even considering the heavy rain. Storm failed to tackle inside Penrith Red Zone in the second half, and only 11 in the opposing half.

Perhaps the flow of the game can be predicted from the list of absentees and the conditions, both of which negatively affected the main event of the magic round.

Thirteen errors and nine penalties were shown in the first half – partly reflecting the desire to improve the ball despite rain from both sides – and often failing to find or grind a rhythm.

It’s hard to remember a time when Melbourne completed 65% in the first half, or when they failed to break a line.

The Panthers had the obvious advantage of fielding on their first-choice backline: their first attempt was a perfect implementation of what would happen to the Penrith Club in 2022 as much as possible.

Isaac Yeo was there, digging deep into the line, when Jerome Louie performed his regular bolero to persuade communication and threw Isaac Tago into the crash line for an opening score. It was dynamic men, cheating and a deadly end.

The second was soon followed in a more bizarre fashion: Nathan Cleary kicked William Kikau, the Fijians flying high to claim and score.

Two of their superstar spines were amputated in Melbourne, but Cameron Munster was still on hand to create his own magic. Fifth eighth Nick Manny got on the board with a crossfield kick.

The fight was short-lived. Stephen Crichton thought he was finished, but failed to get on the field. Ashley Klein pulled the game up with a high shot and Cleary took two.

He doesn’t need to. As the bell approaches, Tyrone Wishart jumps on the fullback, throws a kick with little pressure, and presents his second to Tago.

It took some time for the Panthers to get back to work on the machine in the second half. When he did, he did it in style: Cleary Cooper tore Kikau off the defensive line against Johns, and when he failed to score on his own, it was an easy offload for Jerome Louis to cross.

Penrith hit the right side. Again, with Yeo and Cleary at the heart of it, Dylan Edwards was present at the sweep to get Stephen Crichton to the line. Melbourne had no answer. They hadn’t been up all night.

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