Penrith weathered an early storm from Melbourne's big names to come from behind and record a 34-16 win at Marvel Stadium on Friday night.
The Storm dominated for 32 minutes to set up a 14-0 lead before the defending premiers made a statement of their own with three tries in eight minutes to take a two-point advantage into half-time.
It was a remarkable turnaround from the competition leaders during the match, who were without Nathan Cleary but had the likes of Origin stars Jarome Luai and Liam Martin stand up in his absence while Izack Tago was enormous in the win.
Melbourne took a penalty goal early and then went up by eight when Harry Grant charged down a Jack Cogger kick to race to the line. Storm prop Nelson Asofa-Solomona then laid on a huge hit on Isaah Yeo before crossing in the 24th minute.
Penrith appeared to have an almighty challenge ahead of them in the second half but a penalty try in their favour through Stephen Crichton - who was ruled to have been impeded by Nick Meaney - sparked a remarkable passage of play.
Two for Tago
The visitors went the length of the field the following set to strike again through Tago before Martin dived over courtesy of some skill in the air by Scott Sorensen and Lindsay Smith to get the ball back to the representative forward.
An early penalty goal to Melbourne after half-time levelled the scores but the Panthers regained the lead four minutes later when Tago steamrolled over Will Warbrick to split the Storm defenders to the line.
A penalty try for Crichton
Tago's collision with Warbrick saw the Storm winger ruled out for the remainder of the contest after failing a head injury assessment before the Panthers centre was again in the thick of the action to send Zac Hosking over through a grubber kick.
An error to Nick Meaney on tackle one just as the Storm needed a chance to create some momentum summed up the evening for the home side as Craig Bellamy's looked off the pace late.
Some light-foot stepping from Jarome Luai, who looked dangerous throughout the contest, set up Penrith's sixth of the evening when he laid on a kick for Brian To'o to go over next to the posts and ice a rare away victory in Victoria.
Match: Storm v Panthers
Round 18 -
Venue: Marvel Stadium, Melbourne
- The match was the first NRL game played at Marvel Stadium since Round 7, 2010 with AAMI Park out of action due to the women's FIFA World Cup.
- Tries to Harry Grant and Nelson Asofa-Solomona set up a 14-point lead to Melbourne before Penrith hit back with three tries in eight minutes to snatch a 16-14 half-time advantage.
- Izack Tago's double was the fifth of his career and third of the 2023 season. He also finished the match with a try assist, 123 metres and 12 tackle busts in a man-of-the-match performance.
- Storm fullback Nick Meaney reached 500 career points with a penalty goal in the first half.
- Panthers utility Tyrone Peachey achieved his 200th NRL appearance after coming off the bench for the side.
- Penrith's win was only their fourth in 20 attempts in Melbourne while the Storm had not conceded over 30 points in Melbourne for eight years.
- The Storm lost Will Warbrick to a failed head injury assessment while Scott Sorensen failed to finish the match for the Panthers due to a neck issue.
Play of the game
Jarome Luai has again endured some criticism during the Origin period but was once again at his best against the Storm on Friday night to step up late when the game was on the line.
He created some space to enable Izack Tago to cross for his second before sending Brian To'o over to seal the victory in the final stages.
To'o too good
What they said
"You've got to win in different ways and it was the absolute opposite to how we wanted to start. I can't remember us starting a game so badly. It wasn't looking good there, but we just had to get it together. I was pretty happy to be ahead at half-time. I still can't quite believe how we managed to do that. The final 30 minutes was a decent game of footy but before that it was a bit weird." - Panthers coach Ivan Cleary.
"We stopped doing the things we were doing earlier. We stopped competing in some areas and paid the price. They've been the top side for three years and haven't got there by luck. For that last 55 minutes we hardly got down their end. We got what we deserved tonight and need to learn from that." - Storm coach Craig Bellamy.
NRL Press Conference: Storm v Panthers - Round 18, 2023
Both sides will have a bye in Round 19 in a much-needed time of the year with the final Origin clash approaching on July 12. Panthers star Nathan Cleary could be available in Round 20 as he nears a return from a hamstring injury.