The Penrith Panthers entertain the Melbourne Storm on Thursday night and with just four games of the regular NRL season remaining, the stakes are high.
Penrith have again been the team to beat in 2022 and are the hot fancies to go on and defend the premiership they won in 2021.
The Melbourne Storm would usually be one of the teams to run them close but they have had an indifferent season so far and are 10 points behind the Panthers as they sit fourth on the ladder.
However Craig Bellamy’s side can never be underestimated and if they can finish the season strongly and in the top four then they will be a real threat in finals.
We look set for another exciting week of NRL action and there is no better way to start it with a clash involving two of the competition’s big hitters.
The Panthers and Storm are two of the NRL’s highest scoring teams this season so we could be in for a treat.
With the action at BlueBet Stadium at the foot of the mountains fast approaching, let’s take a closer look at both teams heading into the game.
What: Penrith Panthers v Melbourne Storm
Where: BlueBet Stadium, Penrith
When: 19:50 (AEST), Thursday 11th August 2022
How to watch: Channel 9, Kayo, Foxtel
Odds: Panthers 13/25, Storm 31/20
The Panthers sit six points clear at the top of the ladder and are on course to win their second minor premiership in the space of three seasons.
One or two questions were raised when they slipped to just their second defeat of the season against the Parramatta Eels in round 20 of the comp.
It wasn’t so much the defeat, but the fact that star halfback Nathan Cleary was hit with a five-match ban following a spear tackle in that game.
He joins halves partner Jarome Luai, who is injured, on the sidelines and many wondered how the Panthers would cope.
They answered the question last weekend when coming through a tough examination against the Canberrra Raiders in the nation’s capital.
Penrith ran out 26-6 winners to prove yet again that they have plenty of strength in depth.
They will be in for another tough game against the Storm on Thursday night, even though Bellamy’s side have not been at their best this season.
The Panthers have been hit by the news that key prop forward James Fisher-Harris is not available after he copped a suspension for a high tackle against the Raiders. Matt Eisenhuth comes in to replace him.
Penrith are also boosted by the return of Viliame Kikau to the bench after a hip injury ruled him out last week.
Melbourne Storm looked on course to challenge for top spot at one point this season but a horror run of results saw them slip down the ladder.
They lost four games on the bounce but have since managed to stop the rot and have won the last two games to get them back on track.
Bellamy’s side looked back to their usual selves when they scored 32 points against the Titans last week. That is the most they have registered since round 15 of the comp.
The Panthers will be a much tougher test but the Storm can take heart from the last two wins as they look to secure a top-four spot.
The race is tight as the Storm hold fourth spot for now but the Parramatta Eels in fifth are level on points with them, while both the Broncos and Rabbitohs are just two points behind.
So it is a huge game for the Storm who have been hampered by the absence of key players through injury and suspension this season.
And they will have to cope without another two big players on Thursday night. Both Jahrome Hughes and Felise Kaufusi will miss out through injury and family reasons respectively.
It means Cooper Johns will play in the halves with Cameron Munster, while Nick Meaney returns to play at fullback. Melbourne are also boosted by the return of Justin Olam to the centres after he recovered from sickness.
Harry Grant will play at hooker and will be out to build on his impressive performance against the Titans last week, when he made 39 tackles and ran 130 metres.
He will be up against Api Koroisau again after the two went head-to-head in the recent State of Origin series, which Grant and Queensland won 2-1.