Melbourne came into the season facing serious questions as yet another superstar departed the scene. Rather than appearing to be frail, they’ve almost gone to another level. They remain the week-to-week benchmark in the NRL and Penrith never looked like they could rise to the occasion.
It’s not as if they didn’t have good opportunities to get themselves into the game. Penrith enjoyed a five-nil penalty count and a glut of quality possession early but still found themselves down 6-2 early after Munster crossed after nine minutes.
The Panthers had set after set against the Storm line but simply couldn’t find a way through. James Tamou dropped a short ball from Maloney in the 17th minute and Melbourne finally came up for air.
It was a strange scoreline at that point, given Penrith had nearly 75 per cent of the ball as the rain started to soak the already frozen players. But their fifth-tackle options were questionable and when Melbourne finally got their first penalty, they were able to mount a raid of their own.
But with tries at a premium in the early arm-wrestle, the Storm settled for a Cameron Smith penalty. Brandon Smith was the man to earn it for his side, with the Melbourne interchange forward a constant reminder that not every modern forward needs to be enormous to be effective.
Then the decline began. Dylan Edwards probably wished he’d stayed in the rooms for a bit longer before the second half began. His fumble from the Storm clearing kick was pounced on by Brodie Croft, who simply sprinted over and placed it under the posts untouched.
And Melbourne should have gone further ahead. Jahrome Hughes picked up a loose ball, sprinted clear, slipped out of the tackle and was on the way to a vacant try line when he was called back for what appeared to be a non-existent knock-on.
It mattered little. Josh Addo-Carr was over in the corner a few minutes later as the Storm raced to a 20-2 lead. His celebration was some shadow boxing, a tribute to his grandad Wally Carr, an Australian boxing great struggling with illness.
Marion Seve was given his chance with just over 10 minutes on the clock and he scored with his first touch. Seve beat cancer as a teenager to make the NRL and he was duly mobbed by his comrades in purple after he slammed the ball next to the posts.
Jesse Bromwich powered over to put the exclamation point on a night that proved beyond any doubt that Melbourne can not only survive without Billy Slater, they can thrive. They are that good.