Battle-weary Panthers out to shock Storm

Penrith halfback Nathan Clearly says they have to be more clinical if they are to beat Melbourne.
Penrith halfback Nathan Clearly says they have to be more clinical if they are to beat Melbourne.

Congratulations Penrith. Your reward for overcoming Parramatta in a ferocious NRL semi-final in Mackay on Saturday?

That would be a preliminary final against a fit, rested and ominously in-form Melbourne.

The Panthers' 8-6 win over the Eels was as brutal as the 'Battle of the West' tagline suggested, leaving its share of bumps and bruises that will have to be managed before next weekend's grand final qualifier at Suncorp Stadium.

While that would appear to give the Storm a huge advantage in what will be the latest instalment of a modern rivalry which has blossomed during the Panthers' rise to premiership contenders in the past two seasons, halfback Nathan Cleary isn't convinced it'll be as decisive as most assume.

"They'll be well rested but there's no excuses once you get out there," the star No.7 said.

"Once the first collision's done it's a new game and that's what our focus is on.

"What's happened in the past is nothing and we've got to focus on the future."

Penrith undoubtedly have the potential to derail Melbourne's quest for back-to-back premierships.

While the Storm defeated Cleary's team in last year's grand final, a second-half fightback in that game nearly got the young Panthers over the line.

Earlier this year the Panthers claimed a 12-10 win in a thrilling match at their home ground while Cleary was sidelined with a shoulder injury when the Storm notched up a 37-10 win in Brisbane in round 20.

Cleary knows, however, that to beat the Storm his side will have produce more than the grinding effort that got them past the Eels.

"I know one thing about Melbourne Storm, you just can't give them cheap ball and you have to start well as well," Cleary said.

"Tonight (Saturday) we probably had too many errors and too many silly penalties.

"Against Melbourne they'll make you pay."

Finding the Panthers' attacking spark will be crucial after scoring just two tries - both off kicks - in the past fortnight against South Sydney and the Eels.

"We probably bombed a couple tries again... Obviously we want to get better in our attack but that's something we can work on and when that doesn't go to a plan we've always got our defence to rely on," Cleary said.

Australian Associated Press