Storm v Panthers preview

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Melbourne Storm v Penrith Panthers Saturday 7:45pm at Suncorp Stadium, Milton

Title hot-shots take centre stage at Magic Round

Buckle up league fans, this is bigger than just one versus two. It's a Brisvegas jackpot where Magic Round's showpiece has landed at a heaving Suncorp Stadium.

Because after Melbourne and Penrith it's just daylight, right?

Ever since Craig Bellamy's outfit broke the hearts of Ivan Cleary and his young team in the 2020 grand final, the rivalry has escalated.

Now on Saturday night, they meet for the first time since the Panthers bundled Bellamy's big boys from last year's title race.

Since 2017, these two have been like cat and mouse - tit for tat. The last eight are split four apiece and of those, neither has triumphed with consecutive victories, while four of the last five have been decided by seven points or less.

Now in the midst of a slashing six game winning streak, the Storm are on another planet. Since falling to the Eels in round three, they have accumulated 270 points at 45 per match while conceding just 52 at a misley 8.7 per match.

With 10 tries in the Storm's unbeaten run, Ryan Papenhuyzen has returned to career best form. But in a blow to Melbourne and over 50,000 paying fans, injury has done what his opponents couldn't and stopped the fullback dead in his tracks.

Former Bulldog Nick Meaney fills his boots while Dean Ieremia comes onto the wing. With centre Reimis Smith also injured, Marion Seve gets another chance in the top grade.

Last week at the foot of the mountains, the locals were on track for nine straight wins, but a couple of costly errors let the Eels off the hook. Now as they prepare to combat a lengthy list of Storm matchups, for Penrith, there's no time to mope.

A loss here would be the Panthers' first back-to-back defeat since last June. And with the Roosters and a resurgent Cowboys to follow, Ivan Cleary will be desperate to restore the winning habit.

Compared to Melbourne, Penrith's backline is good to go. Scott Sorensen is the only change up front, rejoining the bench at the expense of Matt Eisenhuth.

Last meeting: Finals Week 3 2021 - Storm 6 Panthers 10

Who to watch: Leaner and meaner after a sub-par 2021, Cameron Munster is rapidly making up lost ground. Over the past five rounds with three tries, eight line-breaks and just as many try-assists, the Queenslander has burned brighter than Venus.

Now as he prepares to face Nathan Cleary and Jarome Luai for the first time since last season's preliminary final exit, there will be no shortage of motivation to rain on their parade.

For the otherside, no one will be more motivated than Dylan Edwards. Last week's decision not to contest a second half bomb was not only unusual, it gifted Parramatta two competition points. It was a tough price for the reliable fullback to pay, who with the most run metres this season, is the man who often sets Penrith's attack on the front foot.

The favourite: With Papenhuyzen parked up, Penrith are now odds-on.

My tip: With the season's three leading try scorers among both sides, a shootout beckons. But given both sides have conceded just 110 points across the opening nine rounds, an Origin-style scrap is the reality. Sadly for Melbourne, the absence of their golden-tipped star looks to be Penrith's rabbit in the hat. Panthers by 12.

15. Tyran Wishart 1. Nick Meaney 3. Marion Seve 4. Justin Olam 5. Xavier Coates 6. Cameron Munster 18. Cooper Johns 8. Jesse Bromwich 9. Harry Grant 10. Nelson Asofa-Solomona 11. Felise Kaufusi 12. Kenny Bromwich 13. Josh King 14. Brandon Smith 16. Trent Loiero 17. Chris Lewis 23. Tui Kamikamica 21. Jayden Nikorima

1. Dylan Edwards 2. Taylan May 3. Izack Tago 4. Stephen Crichton 5. Brian To'o 6. Jarome Luai 7. Nathan Cleary 8. Moses Leota 9. Apisai Koroisau 10. James Fisher-Harris 11. Viliame Kikau 12. Liam Martin 13. Isaah Yeo 14. Mitch Kenny 15. Scott Sorensen 16. Spencer Leniu 17. Jaeman Salmon 18. Robert Jennings

Referees: Ashley Klein; Sideline Officials: Wyatt Raymond, Nick Beashel; Video Referees: Grant Atkins;

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