Gritty Storm withstand Panthers onslaught
THEY say defence wins premierships and on the evidence of their 28-6 win over Penrith, the Storm are up to their necks in another title chase.
After bolting out to an early lead thanks to a better than even share of possession and a first-half masterclass from Will Chambers, the Storm simply hung on like only they know how.
If that sounds like a recipe for disaster against a Panthers side with arguably the most scintillating attack in the competition it's because it would be for anyone else.
Not this Storm side. For 50 minutes the Panthers quite simply owned the ball. They had 70 per cent possession between the 20th minute and the 70th.
They threw everything at last year's losing grand finalist, with their ad lib attack occasionally looking like something out of a circus as they tried basketball passes, one handed offloads, and sideline to sideline passing movements in search of a crack.
Driving away from AAMI Park, they're still looking for it.
The reward for all their enterprise with the ball was one lone try to Te Maire Martin who crossed in the 26th minute, when the momentum looked to be swinging the visitors' way.
No doubt it was but at 10-4 to the Storm the home side still held the aces.
Cameron Smith rallied the troops and the Storm buckled down for the onslaught.
Particularly for the first 20 minutes of the second half, the onslaught did come. But the frustration grew for the Panthers and they started to go sideways with their attack without earning the right.
And in the moments where the Storm could sniff an opportunity to counter, they pounced ruthlessly.
The first minute of the second half could have led to a try to either team. The Panthers caught the Storm unaware with a high, short kick off but they couldn't quite clean up the possession, instead giving away a penalty for stripping the ball with two men in the tackle.
In a blink of an eye Cooper Cronk was strolling over between the sticks after Dale Finucane ran a perfect outside inside line to break the Panthers open with his offload finding the support run of his halfback.
It was the kind of play that Penrith executed time and time again only to be met by the staunch resistance of a Storm defensive line that refused to buckle.
Cronk's try would have opened the floodgates for the Storm at their home fortress against many other sides but one thing Anthony Griffin's side doesn't lack is spirit.
Now behind 16-6, the Panthers reloaded with Moylan getting his hands on the ball more and more as the second half unfolded.
Often the skipper would find himself running down a cul-de-sac only to do a U-turn, evade the clutches of a couple of defenders and attempt an exploration of the other side of the field.
As the clock turned against them, the Panthers got more and more creative (or desperate, depending on your point-of-view) with several sixth tackle plays going from one sideline to the other and back again before the play finally died.
Dallin Watene-Zelezniak almost pulled down an AFL-like grab from a cross-field kick.
Cleary went over but was held up. So did Martin.
With every 'almost' there was a Storm defender at the bottom of the pile and the result looked more certain.
Finally desperation turned to errors and when the tide turned against them the Storm showed another premiership quality you can't go without. Their ruthlessness.
Fox Sports commentator Andrew Voss compared the Storm's wing twins to Wendell Sailor and Lote Tuqiri in their Broncos heyday and it was the two specialist finishers who finally stuck the knife into the Panthers.
Josh Addo-Carr scored a runaway try off a Storm scrum play from deep within their own half with nine minutes remaining.
Last season's top tryscorer Suliasi Vunivalu put the exclamation mark on proceedings with one of his own in the last minute of the game.
Smith kicked five goals to bring him closer to one NRL record as he chalked up another, with the hooker now the proud owner of the most first grade wins in premiership history - a whopping 238.
On this display he'll be touching 260 by season's end.