A Coby Williamson double has helped lift Melbourne Storm’s Jersey Flegg side to a hard-fought 24-20 win over the Penrith Panthers at Gosch’s Paddock on Sunday afternoon.
Needing a win to put the fate of their finals aspirations into their own hands, Storm showed plenty of defensive resilience across the 70-minutes to set up a highly anticipated clash against the Raiders at home in the final round of the season next weekend.
With the local crowd coming out to show its support, Storm shook off a shaky start to hit the scoreboard first, finding space down the right edge of the Panthers defence with Ali Okusitino scoring in the corner in the 5th minute.
The Panthers had a reply of their own when a Joseph Nohra grubber ricocheted off the post and fell into the path of Billy Scott who dived over next to the posts in the 10th minute.
The tries continued to be scored at regular five-minute intervals, Keagan Russell-Smith barging over from close range for Storm in the 15th minute before Panthers replied with a try to Cody Lawson.
With half-time looming, Storm were presented an opportunity from a scrum in good field position and the backline didn’t disappoint.
Stanley Huen showed a nice sleight of hand to put Coby Williamson through a hole untouched in what was the final play of the half.
Coming out for the second half leading 18-10, Storm were forced to absorb a high defensive workload to start the second half.
That pressure eventually taking its toll with the Panthers scoring in the 39th and 46th minute.
Now trailing by two points, it was some strong running from Storm’s outside backs that would wrestle momentum back into the home side’s favour.
A 25m run out of trouble from centre Mitch Jennings proving to be a key turning point of the contest.
With the Panthers defence now on the back foot, Russell-Smith was able to orchestrate a repeat set from a well-weighted grubber before firing a cut-out pass to a barnstorming Williamson who burst through to score and restore Storm’s lead in the 56th minute.
The result was far from sealed in the final 15 minute however, Storm having to absorb plenty of defensive pressure as the Panthers continued to threaten on both edges with desperation beginning to set in for the away side.
Fortunately, Storm managed to hold on for the 24-20 victory, now putting them two-points clear of the 6th placed Eels.
With the Jersey Flegg competition consisting of a five-team finals series, should the Eels lose their Round 26 clash with the Panthers next weekend, finals will be secured for Storm.
Otherwise, it’ll be must-win territory on Saturday.