Panthers stamp premiership credentials as Smith botches Storm challenge

It forced coach Storm coach Craig Bellamy to leap to the veteran skipper’s defence – again – and claim: “People who have never played the game, never coached the game, never really been involved in a footy club come out and bag him all the time.”

Smith debated a Penrith penalty when he was pinged before half-time for obstructing Cleary as he chased through after an Api Koroisau kick.

Dylan Edwards of the Panthers is tackled by Dale Finucane.Credit:AAP

Replays showed Smith simply holding his ground, but he refused to use his challenge. Smith and Cleary were spotted giggling with each other as they returned up-field for the kick-off.

Smith finally used the challenge when Suliasi Vunivalu was shoved into touch with what appeared a second effort from Josh Mansour, but it was quickly denied.

“They base their 80 minutes around starting well and starting fast,” Smith said. “We couldn’t match their intensity early, and with the season restarting, it’s a key to winning matches – if you start well and get some momentum, it’s hard to peg back.

“We fought back well, but there were some uncharacteristic Storm play late in the second half.”

The Panthers deserved this victory after taking it to another premiership powerhouse, Parramatta, just seven nights earlier.

Isaah Yeo was given huge praise by the TV commentators for his tireless work off the ball, while big Billy Kikau was described as a ”flying squeegee mop” when he charged through after a Cleary kick and caught it uncontested to put the home side in front late in the game.

The Kikau try was the play that upset Smith the most given no Storm player could get a hand on him.

Cleary was excellent again while Dylan Edwards will strip fitter for his first gallop in the No. 1 jersey for the season.

Zane Tetevano came up with a bell-ringer of a hit on Dale Finucane when he belted him from behind and forced him off the field for a few minutes with a rib injury.

Panthers coach Ivan Cleary was so impressed with the work rate of Nathan Cleary, Jarome Luai and Api Koroisau, he was spared having to use Matt Burton off the bench.

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What a shame more fans will not be allowed into Campbelltown Sports Stadium on Thursday when the Panthers host the revived South Sydney.

The Cleary and Cody Walker match-up on the same side will be a highlight.

Cleary said the Panthers were definitely on the up but there was no way they could allow teams ”to get a sniff’, otherwise they would not be so lucky. He always knew Kikau was going to be hard to stop when steaming through after his kick for the four-pointer.

The Storm looked out of steam for much of the night but never out on their feet.

Cameron Munster was excellent and set up their two tries with lovely passes for Felise Kaufusi and Brenko Lee. Kaufusi’s try all started when Munster was able to shrug off Dean Whare a couple of minutes earlier.

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