Cooper Cronk returns for Storm after sitting out Round 1. Source:Colleen Petch/News Limited
Melbourne Storm v Penrith Panthers
Saturday, March 15 – 4.35pm (AEST)
Things you need to know:
Cooper Cronk will make his first appearance for the campaign, after shoulder surgery in the off-season. Cronk replaces the unlucky Ben Roberts, who paired with Ben Hampton in the halves in Storm's stirring 23-22 golden-point extra time win over Manly in round one. Travis Robinson (knee) remains on track for a round five return, while Matt Duffie (knee) is out for the season.
The Panthers head to Melbourne unchanged, after their 30-8 runaway win over Newcastle to start their season in positive fashion. Right-sided winger Josh Mansour played a huge role in that victory, gaining 155 metres and scoring two tries and will give the Storm's wide men all sorts of grief, much like the Sea Eagles did to Craig Bellamy's men in the first half last week. Jamal Idris (hamstring) remains sidelined for Ivan Cleary's side, with the former Gold Coast man still awaiting his club debut.
Reason to watch:
Two very big ones if you're a Storm fan - captain Cam Smith will break the club's games record as he runs onto the field for the 263rd time in his illustrious career, surpassing the tally of Matt Geyer. The other? Full-back Billy Slater celebrates game number 250. Emotions will be riding high in Melbourne on Saturday night.
If you're a Penrith fan, well, hope the Storm's milestones are a distraction, not motivation. Slater's 150th and 200th games were wins, with opponents St George/Illawarra and North Queensland combining for just 14 points across those two matches.
Reason to turn away:
The only chance this game could be a stinker is if Melbourne are physically feeling the effects of their superhuman efforts to reel in Manly last weekend. The Storm were listless early, trailed 20-0, but like a champion team, prevailed via Smith's golden-point drop goal. Penrith had a much easier time of it in round one, running in five tries to Newcastle's one. They should be much fresher than the Storm, and it could result in them triumphing in Victoria for the first time since 2005.
"He could be coaching us now if he had to. I have no doubt he could be coaching any club, he is a great thinker of the game. But his main focus is playing right now but down the track he could coach, I wouldn't put it past him," Slater said, of skipper Smith.
Penrith snapped an 11-match losing streak against Melbourne with a famous 12-10 win last season. They haven't won in Melbourne in nine years though, and Bellamy's men have so much to play for with milestones to club heroes Smith and Slater. All that said, the men in purple will certainly be feeling weary come the final 20 minutes on Saturday after a lung-busting victory over old rivals Manly at Brookvale. Expect Cleary's men to launch a comeback of their own in Melbourne, but expect the emotion of the day to get the hosts over the line. Storm by two points
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