Melbourne weren’t really ‘the Storm’, but Penrith were at peak Panther. What did we see in Magic Round’s main event?

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With every hour that ticked down to the hotly anticipated game between the table-topping Melbourne Storm and reigning premiers Penrith, it seemed another big name was out.

Storm fullback Ryan Papenhuyzen was the big one, cut down in perhaps the best form of his career, with centre Reimis Smith’s injury causing a complete backline reshuffle.

Then Cleary was a matchday scratching. Mercifully, though, it was coach Ivan rather than his son.

Then, a few hours before kick-off, Storm halfback Jahrome Hughes succumbed to a calf strain.

Storm halfback Jahrome Hughes joined fullback Ryan Papenhuyzen on the injured list after failing a late fitness test.(Getty Images, Daniel Pockett )

In a couple of strokes of red pen, what was supposed to be a game between two star-studded teams in their pomp was once again reduced to a case of one full-strength team going up against a near-unrecognisable group.

It may sound like an exaggeration to suggest one or two injuries can have that sort of impact on a team like the Storm, but there was a clear ripple effect.

Papenhuyzen’s injury meant an initial shuffle of Nick Meaney going from the wing to fullback, meaning Dean Ieremia and Marion Seve would have to form a brand new wing-centre combination.

Perhaps fearing the Panthers would score 300 points down that wing, coach Craig Bellamy reshuffled again, with substitute hooker Tyran Wishart channelling his father Rod and sliding to a custodial role, leaving Meaney in number two.

Hughes would have been a natural candidate to fill in at the back, but his injury put paid to that idea, as well as the idea of moving Cameron Munster back there, because the Storm needed at least one experienced head in the halves.

Bellamy also split up the experienced outside backs, with Justin Olam on the left and Xavier Coates on the right, but it mattered little.

In the opening 10 minutes, Seve had been targeted for two Panthers tries and the makeshift fullback had knocked on a relatively simple support run, which led directly to the second of those.

Jarome Luai’s try to start the second-half scoring was also a result of targeting Seve’s corridor, and Wishart’s confidence looked dead and buried by the end of a horror night under high balls, low balls, fast balls, sliders, off-speed pitches and anything else the Panthers felt like throwing at him.

Storm fans needn’t despair too much — the same thing happened in the other direction in round 20 last year.

The 2020 grand finalists faced off a bit more than a month out from finals, but Penrith was being captained by Dylan Edwards, which should tell you something about how little they resembled themselves.

No Cleary (Nathan this time), Isaah Yeo, Brian To’o, Kurt Capewell or James Fisher-Harris led to a 37-10 win for the Storm; a far cry from the 10-6 loss to Penrith in the preliminary final nine weeks later.

So what can we really glean from these games?

The Panthers are the new kings of ‘next man up’

Give Melbourne an off-season and they can turn anyone into a top-flight NRL player. They’ve done it for the better part of two decades now.

But in Penrith, it barely takes them a week.

Two Penrith Panthers NRL players embrace after a try was scored against Melbourne Storm
The Panthers used Viliame Kikau to attack Marion Seve relentlessly.(AAP: Dave Hunt)

Every time one of their top guys goes down, there’s another flyer or bullocking ball-runner ready and waiting.

We’ve seen it this season, with Taylan May making such an impression stepping in for Brian To’o that he forced Charlie Staines out of the side.

He or Stephen Crichton could be the best fullback in plenty of sides, but the Panthers have Dylan Edwards.

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