Penrith have moved to the top of the NRL premiership table after brushing Melbourne aside in a 32-6 Magic Round win in Brisbane.
In front of 46,454 fans at Suncorp Stadium, Penrith never relented after taking a two-try lead in the opening quarter of an hour.
Melbourne were seriously down on star power and it showed as the Panthers brought up their biggest win over the Storm.
Fullback Ryan Papenhuyzen (knee) and centre Reimis Smith (pectoral) both fell to injuries in last week’s win, while halfback Jahrome Hughes (calf) pulled out on gameday.
It was the first time the two sides had faced each other since last year’s preliminary final on the same ground when the Storm were also outplayed.
Panthers halfback Nathan Cleary. Chris Hyde/Getty Images
“It’s probably a game we needed after three or four weeks where we’ve won really well,” Storm coach Craig Bellamy said.
“With all due respect that was a good comedown for us.
“We got what we deserved tonight. Perhaps we haven’t been going as good as other people thought.”
The Panthers were ruthless when it came to capitalising on Melbourne’s mistakes.
And there was some immediate concern the Storm might lose another of their star spine members in the opening set of the match.
Harry Grant got up groggily after he received an ugly knock while attempting to tackle James Fisher-Harris.
Grant was given the all-clear to play on but it was those stepping up from reserve grade who allowed the Panthers to hit an early lead.
Penrith sensed a vulnerability in Melbourne’s right edge defence which contained halfback Cooper Johns and Marion Seve at centre for their first games of the season.
Izack Tago ran through a big hole Seve left for the Panthers’ first try before Viliame Kikau outjumped the Storm centre to add Penrith’s second after 10 minutes.
Melbourne rallied with a well-weighted kick from five-eighth Cameron Munster that was easily regathered for Nick Meaney to score but it was the Storm’s only try of the night.
Nathan Cleary responded by adding a penalty for the Panthers and then targeted another stand-in, this time fullback Tyran Wishart, with one of his aerial bombs.
Wishart dropped the ball under pressure from Kikau and Tago touched down to give the Panthers a 20-6 lead at halftime.
Melbourne kept Penrith at bay for the first 15 minutes of the second half but the pressure told when Kikau ran at Johns and the big Fijian offloaded for Jarome Luai to score.
Stephen Crichton added another for the Panthers, with coach Ivan Cleary watching on from the couch.
Cleary wasn’t given clearance to travel after having an operation on his knee but is likely to be back on deck for next week’s game against the Sydney Roosters.
“It wasn’t a normal week. Obviously Ivan’s missing and he really wanted to come up but this morning made the decision not to come,” assistant coach Cameron Ciraldo said.
“It could easily have been plenty of distractions there but I thought our guys handled it really well.
“Even the game before us going into golden point, we had to stop our warm ups, wait and come back and they just handled everything we threw at them the last couple of days and all the distractions. I thought they were really good.”