Melbourne have kept their hopes of a top four finish alive after a professional 24-10 victory over the Penrith Panthers, in front of 8,994 fans at Penrith tonight.
The race for the top four, has just intensified as Melbourne put themselves two points from the hunt, with a thoroughly workman-like defensive effort sprinkled with some attacking flair, to quell a stubborn Panthers team. It took some inspiration from their big three and Ben Roberts to put them away.
Penrith, playing their second Monday night football game in as many weeks, started off with possession in the slick conditions at home but the Storm continued to repel the home side. They would be rewarded for their defensive work in the 16th minute, as Marika Koroibete read a Tigers back-line movement, plucking the ball out of the air and streaking away.
Jamie Soward and the Panthers attack, were living the phrase, 'fool me once, shame on you.. fool me twice, shame on me,' as the backline movement worked to perfection, the second go-around. The halfback delayed the pass enough to interest Koroibete again but this time, he could only watch, as Dallin Watene-Zelezniak took himself airborne to make it six-all.
A penalty in the last minute, gave Melbourne a final chance to attack. Like they have done time and again from Cooper Cronk's kicking game, they profited. He hooked a kick to the right corner allowing Sisa Waqa to leap high, batting it Will Chambers who easily out-muscled Soward to plant it down for a 10-six Storm lead.
It was a ten minute salvo halfway through, the second half that Melbourne stepped up the gear in a game that resembled a finals game in intensity during portions. They kicked themselves six clear when Cameron Smith potted a penalty goal, after a strip in the 53rd minute. Once there was 17 minutes remaining, Melbourne had put the game to bed.
Multiple errors in their own 20, kept the Storm camped on the Panthers line. They punished the Panthers for their errant ways when Ben Roberts stepped off his right, beating two defenders and scoring. Billy Slater added himself to the scoresheet after a one-two move down the right sideline with Waqa to put the fullback away for a 24-six lead.
The Panthers claimed a late consolation try after repeat sets on the Storm line. Jamal Idris, who crunched Cooper Cronk earlier in the night with a tackle, used finesse in beating two defenders on his way to the try-line. It was too late to create any late drama, as Melbourne kept their top four hopes alive on a wet and windy night in the west.