The teams placed fourth and fifth in the ladder were always likely to serve up a close encounter as the Penrith Panthers took on the Melbourne Storm at the Campbeltown Stadium in Sydney.
There was little to choose between these two sides as the continued their hunt for the top of the table.
Josh Addo-Carr was missing for the Storm, expecting the birth of his first child, and was in the starting line up by Marion Seve.
A delightful left side move saw Penrith open the scoring on sixteen with a Steven Crichton try after he took in neat inside pass from Josh Mansour. Cleary added the conversion for a 6-0 lead.
The strike back came on thirty-one minutes when Felise Kafusi took a flat ball from Cameron Munster. The goal was added by Cameron Smith to tie up the game.
With two minutes of the half remaining Cleary kicked a penalty goal after an obstruction in the kick chase to edge Penrith back into a two point lead at the interval.
On fifty the Panthers were in for their second when Brian To’o took a Cleary pass on the overlap to score in the corner. Clearly nailed the kick for 14-6.
Five minutes later Cam Munster dipped his shoulder after taking a miss out bullet pass to dive over and get the Storm right back into the game. Smith added the extra two to again narrow the lead to that later first half penalty.
Melbourne forced an error from the Panthers on fifty-nine. Penrith conceded a penalty as they tried to slow the onslaught and Smith took the opportunity to level the scores.
Four minutes later and the Panthers were back in front. A superb bomb from Cleary was caught by a rampaging Kikau two from the line who walked in to score. Cleary was accurate with the boot, the Panthers six in the lead again.
Melbourne spilled the ball five out from their own line on seventh and on the first set of six the Panthers forced them into a dropout but the favour was returned when Melbourne forced the error as the Panthers set up for the field goal.
A seventy-sixth minute, forty metre, drop goal sealed the win for the Panthers, Nathan Cleary calmly slotting the ball through the ‘H’ to take the two crucial points.
Another tremendous match to keep the neutrals entertained. Some brutal hits and more than anyone’s fair share of skilful play. Penrith were good value for their win, but Melbourne will spend the next week rueing their missed chance.
Penrith Panthers: Edwards, Mansour, Whare, Crichton (T), To’o (T), Luai, Cleary (4G, DG), Tamou, Koroisau, Fisher-Harris, Kikau (T), Martin, Yeo. Subs: Burton, Tetevano, Leota, Burns.
Melbourne Storm: Papenhuyzen, Vunivalu, Olam, Lee, Munster (T), Jacks, Bromwich J, Smith C (3G), Kafusi (T), Bromwich K, Finucane, Smith B, Seve. Subs: Welch, Faasuamaleaui, Eisenhuth, Asofa-Solomona.
Referee: Ashley Klein.
Ground: Campbelltown Stadium, Sydney.