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A slide down the ladder was supposed to happen after Cooper Cronk left the Storm, then it was definitely going to happen after Billy Slater headed through the exit door a year later.

But despite the naysayers, the Melbourne Storm keep winning matches. They've quickly moved onto four competition points in 2019, but their trip to Bathurst to take on the Panthers on Saturday night looms as one match in which they'll be tested.

With Cameron Smith now spending some time at first receiver, that means more game time for Brandon Smith - a move which provides Melbourne with some more muscle in the middle third of the field.

The Panthers weren't great in their loss to Parramatta but bounced back strongly to beat the Knights.

Melbourne have been the yardstick by which teams can measure how they're travelling for much of the past 15 years. Penrith's players will find out a lot about themselves in this one.

The Rundown

Team news

Panthers: Moses Leota will start at prop, with Reagan Campbell-Gillard to come off the interchange bench.  Jack Hetherington and Tim Grant were the two players left out one hour out from game time. Malakai Watene-Zelezniak and Jarome Luai were dropped from the squad 24 hours out from kick-off.

Storm: The Storm will start 1-17 after Ryan Papenhuyzen and Patrick Kaufusi were the last two dropped from the bench. Marion Seve keeps his utility spot off the bench. Melbourne have won 17 of their last 19 games against the Panthers. Albert Vete and Billy Walters were the two players dropped from 24 hours from game time.

Key match-up

Reagan Campbell-Gillard v Jesse Bromwich. The leaders of their respective forward packs, RCG and Bromwich set the platform. They both have plenty of quality help, but this pair have the ability to set their side on the path to victory by starting sets with runs that can stretch the opposition defensive line.

For the Panthers to win

The retirement of Billy Slater hasn't stopped the prowess of the Storm back three when it comes to kick returns. If the Panthers are able to limit the ground Josh Addo-Carr, Suliasi Vunivalu and Jahrome Hughes make by finding the line with kicks, their defence will have one less headache to worry about.

For the Storm to win

When the Storm have the lead they are able to suffocate their opposition via workman-like sets of six, a clever kicking game and the ability to control the ruck. If they get an early jump on the Panthers, the hosts could be in for a long night.

Brett Kimmorley says ...

Penrith got a win last week but they weren’t convincing. I would like to see Nathan Cleary steer the team around and play some better structure and show us there is a game plan for the full 80 minutes. Penrith are still coming in and out of games. I want to see Nathan Cleary control the Panthers side for every tackle of the game. Otherwise the Storm will find a weakness, they are the best in the competition at pulling apart a deficiency. Melbourne give you nothing for 80 minutes. Storm by 8

Panthers Stat Attack

He went a long way to winning the match with that superb tackle on Edrick Lee, but James Maloney has also conceded six penalties in the two matches he has played. If he could rectify the problems he has in that area, his worth to the team would become even greater.

Storm Stat Attack

The Storm have had 80 tackle breaks in their first two matches, with Suliasi Vunivalu and Jahrome Hughes leading the way. Suliasi Vunivalu (11) and Jahrome Hughes (eight) are leading the way in that department.

And another thing ...

Over their opening two matches, the Panthers have completed just 65 per cent of their attacking sets. If that continues against the Storm they will be in for a long night. The Storm, on the other hand, are at 80 per cent after two rounds.