Storm put Panthers' finals hopes on life support

The Melbourne Storm have completed a clinical victory over the Penrith Panthers at CUA Stadium tonight, with 8,813 fans witnessing a 40-6 scoreline in favour of the away side.

The game started with Penrith looking like they might offer a challenge with some positive attack and some decent defence, however the Storm kept plugging away and eventually managed to cross. Once they executed their first try it was an inevitable flood, and within ten minutes, three tries took them to a 14-0 lead.

The Storm extended their lead to 20-0 before the break and went on with the job in the second half also, dodging a Panthers try to put a further 20 points on the board.

The big talking point to come out of the match will ultimately be Panther forward Frank Pritchard's stunning refusal to play after being supposedly cleared of a shoulder injury. Centre Michael Jennings was injured at one stage and Pritchard looked up and ready to go but never ended up taking the field. There is sure to be more on the matter over the coming days but there surely would be concerns out at the foot of the mountains.

The victory for Melbourne takes them alone to the top of the ladder once more and the margin gives them the added buffer over their nearest competitiors Manly. Penrith live to fight another day despite the loss, although it would seem unlikely on tonight's performance that they could earn 8th spot over other seemingly more deserving sides. The Panthers will tough it out in Auckland next week against the Warriors, while Melbourne have a pressure match in Newcastle against a desperate Knights outfit.

Match Details Melbourne Storm 40 def Penrith Panthers 6 Round 24 - Monday August 25th, 2008 7:00pm Venue: CUA Stadium Referee: Matt Cecchin Touch Judges: Rod Lawrence, Luke Potter Video Referee: Bill Harrigan Halftime: Storm 20 Panthers 0 Crowd: 8,813

Penrith Panthers 6 Tries: Nathan Smith Goals: Michael Gordon (1/1)

Melbourne Storm 40 Tries: Steve Turner (2), Greg Inglis (3), Anthony Quinn, Cameron Smith, Jeff Lima Goals: Cameron Smith (4/8) Player of the Match 3 Points: Greg Inglis (Storm) 2 Points: Jeff Lima (Storm) 1 Point: Cooper Cronk (Storm) Live Commentary PANTHERS: 1. Rhys Wesser 2. Luke Rooney 3. Michael Jennings 4. Brad Tighe 5. Michael Gordon 6. Maurice Blair 7. Luke Lewis 8. Tony Puletua 9. Luke Priddis 10. Petero Civoniceva (C) 11. Frank Pritchard 12. Trent Waterhouse 13. Nathan Smith Interchange: 14. Matthew Bell 15. Adam Woolnough 16. Frank Puletua 17. Paul Aiton; Reserves: 18. Masada Iosefa 19. Joseph Paulo STORM: 1. Billy Slater 2. Steve Turner 3. Matt Geyer 4. Israel Folau 5. Anthony Quinn 6. Greg Inglis 7. Cooper Cronk 8. Jeff Lima 9. Cam Smith (c) 10. Brett White 11. Michael Crocker 12. Jeremy Smith 13. Dallas Johnson Interchange: 14. Aiden Tolman 15. Adam Blair 16. Sika Manu 17. Antonio Kaufusi

It's not as chilly at the foot of the mountains tonight as Penrith play for their season against premiership favourites the Melbourne Storm. The visitors are expected to win, but with everything on the line for the Panthers anything is possible. Kickoff will be coming up shortly.

Penrith will run out 1-17 as per program, while the Storm are missing Aiden Tolman, with Scott Anderson earning the call up to play off the bench.

Teams on the park now, kickoff not far away now.

FIRST HALF KICKOFF: Game on. Melbourne with the first set of possession.

1 min: PENALTY Storm. Slowing down the play-the-ball, given to Melbourne in the first set.

2 min: Storm not kicking on the last, Jeremy Smith is tackled - handover to the Panthers. A solid crowd here at CUA.

3 min: Penrith throw a forward pass as a break is made by Luke Rooney. Storm to attack again.

5 min: PENALTY Panthers. Greg Inglis creates an obstruction and Penrith get the penalty against the run of play.

6 min: PENALTY Panthers. Bit dubious this one for an alleged strip. Finally the home side to attack, what can they do? They force another set on the fifth, line drop-out Storm.

8 min: Big bomb at the end of the set by Maurice Blair but it bears no fruit, travelling backwards and eventually ending up in Melbourne hands. They'll work it out of their own half now.

10 min: TRY Melbourne Storm The first points go to Melbourne largely against the run of play. They turn it wide and Steve Turner runs from 15 metres out to score in the corner. Conversion attempt by Cameron Smith unsuccessful. Melbourne Storm 4-0

14 min: PENALTY Storm. Dodgy tackle from Michael Jennings. He is ON REPORT now. Melbourne to attack again.

16 min: TRY Melbourne Storm It goes to the air and eventually comes down in Billy Slater's hands, he gets it back to Greg Inglis and the lead extends. Conversion attempt by Cameron Smith successful. Melbourne Storm 10-0

18 min: PENALTY Storm. Matt Cecchin hammering Penrith in the discpline department, 4-2 in Melbourne's favour after just 20 minutes.

19 min: VIDEO REFEREE Possible Storm try. Checking the ground here... should be a green light.

20 min: TRY Melbourne Storm A spinning action from Quinn gets Melbourne another easy try and things are clinical here so far at CUA. Melbourne extend the lead to fourteen. Conversion attempt by Cameron Smith unsuccessful. Melbourne Storm 14-0

24 min: Melbourne finally manage to butcher a tryscoring opportunity and now the Panthers will move on upfield.

25 min: VIDEO REFEREE Possible Panthers try. Checking who got to the ball first between Penrith's Brad Tighe and Melbourne's Billy Slater. Decision pending... NO TRY. Storm line drop-out, Slater had forced it dead.

26 min: PENALTY Panthers. Another set begins for Penrith, hot on the attack. Wesser kicks on the last and there's no luck there.

27 min: Melbourne get the ball down the park but Cronk's kicked it dead, Penrith to return the ball.

29 min: Another set for the Panthers now, and they'll go for the line again - no, captain Petero fumbles and Melbourne clean up the scraps.

30 min: Ordinary long kicking game from Cronk tonight, he's shooting them straight down Rhys Wesser's throat and the zippy fullback brings it back again with ease.

31 min: INJURY - Frank Pritchard (Panthers) - reports of shoulder problems. Team doctors assessing him now.

32 min: Melbourne hot on the attack... bomb goes up on the last... VIDEO REFEREE - Possible Storm try. Checking a number of issues but it appears Greg Inglis has managed a double. Decision pending...

33 min: TRY Melbourne Storm Cronk's bomb sees an Anthony Quinn air-swing and miss, then on the ground Inglis beats Luke Lewis to the pill, completing a double for him in the first half. Conversion attempt by Cameron Smith successful. Melbourne Storm 20-0

36 min: Billy Slater takes a Penrith bomb in the field of play just in front of the posts - then strangely runs in-goal, and is pinned. ANOTHER line drop-out for the Storm to defend here, can Penrith finally crack the Storm line?

37 min: Plenty of passing but no result for Penrith, Rhys Wesser opting to kick again but the ball is out of play and Melbourne will bring it back for another slog. This set sees Cronk's long kick finally find some space.

38 min: Rooney's away down the touchline but he's been ankle tapped from behind by Steve Turner! Cruel misfortune for the Panthers just before halftime.

40 min: Melbourne throw away a chance to extend their lead just before the break with a forward pass, then Penrith do the same with a knock-on.

HALFTIME Melbourne Storm 20 Penrith Panthers 0 It's been all Melbourne here at CUA Stadium, a clinical display with some typically tough defence not allowing any Penrith points. By the same token, Penrith's attack has been largely impotent. Without calling it too early, it would take a brave man to think the home side has any chance here to take victory.

SECOND HALF KICKOFF We're underway again at CUA, Penrith on the attack already here but the Storm defuse the situation with solid defence.

42 min: A moment of comedy as referee Matt Cecchin cleans up Cooper Cronk in an accidental clash. Penrith looking better so far but the Storm still doing what they must to keep it going.

43 min: Israel Folau taken into touch and the Panthers' lift in intensity really showing now.

44 min: Michael Gordon dragged down just short of the line then PENALTY Panthers with Melbourne inside the ten.

45 min: TRY Penrith Panthers Penrith break through and manage their first points after continued pressure on the Storm line. Nathan Smith barges over. Conversion attempt by Michael Gordon successful. Melbourne Storm 20-6

50 min: TRY Melbourne Storm A very good try with the Storm's outside backs combining to give Steve Turner a double. Conversion attempt by Cameron Smith unsuccessful. Melbourne Storm 24-6

54 min: PENALTY Panthers. Melbourne penalised for slowing down the ruck - I cannot believe it. Melbourne slowing down the ruck? NEVER!!!

56 min: HELD UP Luke Priddis (Panthers). Absolute trysaver from Slater & Folau on Priddis. Looks worse for wear now. He'll play the ball on the 10m line.

60 min: INJURY. Michael Jennings (Panthers) is hurt after an earlier (legitimate) tackle from Jeff Lima. Time called off. CUA Stadium applauds as he rises to his feet.

INJURY UPDATE: Frank Pritchard is apparently fine to return to the field but has so far refused... not sure why.

62 min: PENALTY Storm. Shocking play the ball from Rhys Wesser sees Melbourne get some great field position, and from the play, Cameron Smith scores easily.

65 min: TRY Melbourne Storm Too easy for the Storm here and they hit the 30-point mark. Conversion attempt by Cameron Smith successful. Melbourne Storm 30-6

67 min: PENALTY Storm. Cameron Smith manages to earn a penalty for a Panthers obstruction as Brad Tighe crab-runs behind his teammates. Good field position again for the visitors.

69 min: VIDEO REFEREE Possible Storm try. Brett White the possible scorer here but the grounding doesn't look likely. Decision pending... REFS CALL - HELD UP. No try and the Storm will have another bite with a play the ball 10m out.

70 min: TRY Melbourne Storm Jeff Lima does what Brett White failed to just a minute earlier and Melbourne are cruising now. Conversion attempt by Cameron Smith successful. Melbourne Storm 36-6

73 min: Penrith get a scrum just inside their own half, can they get over with a consolation try in the final few minutes of this contest?

75 min: Wesser fumbles into touch and it's just not his night tonight. Melbourne will have a scrum feed here and will surely cross the 40 point mark here.

76 min: VIDEO REFEREE Possible Storm try. Inglis perhaps flirting with the touchline.

INJURY Luke Lewis (Panthers). Not looking good, stretcher being called for the Panthers' half. Major looking injury, occuring just before the try. Decision pending on the try...

77 min: TRY Melbourne Storm Inglis manages to cross in the corner and video referee Bill Harrigan is kind enough to award the try. Storm not making it easy for their captain Cameron Smith to convert tonight. Conversion attempt by Cameron Smith unsuccessful. Melbourne Storm 40-6

Luke Lewis is up and about, looks like it may have simply been concussion. Still very groggy. Still unclear what the story is with Frank Pritchard as he remains on the sideline.

79 min: Things winding down here in the final minute, Melbourne trying for one last for-and-against boosting try...

80 min: No luck and the siren sounds with a 34-point victory.

FULLTIME Melbourne Storm 40 Penrith Panthers 6 Melbourne just too good tonight, and try as they may, Penrith just couldn't match it and their finals chances take a further blow, results now needing to point in their direction. The Storm move up to the competition lead once again and they look almost untouchable.