Otago Daily Times

Panthers on a roll for date with Melbourne



SYDNEY: The Penrith Panthers will ride a 17match winning streak into the National Rugby League final this weekend, looking to bag a first title since 2003 and ruin what might be the last outing for Melbourne Storm skipper Cameron Smith.

The 2020 season will come to a climax in front of 40,000 fans at Sydney’s Olympic Stadium in a ‘‘grand final’’ that matches the two best teams from the novel coronaviru­sdisrupted campaign in what will be Smith’s recordexte­nding 430th NRL game.

Smith is considered one of the greatest players to have graced the game and although he is yet to confirm his retirement, there have been signs that his glittering 19year career will come to an end tomorrow night.

The hooker was ‘‘chaired off’’ the pitch by his teammates at Lang Park after the 3010 thrashing of the Canberra Raiders that earned the Melbourne club a place in its 10th title decider in 23 seasons of existence.

Despite its success, the Storm remains largely unloved outside its fanbase. Created by a media group in an Australian Rulesobses­sed city, the team has had two of its five titles stripped for flagrant salarycap breaches.

Smith and 18year coach Craig Bellamy have always embraced a siege mentality but particular­ly during this campaign after they were forced into exile in Queensland because of the

Covid19 bourne.

‘‘That is certainly not a motivation at all in our mindset, what opinions other people have of us as a club or individual­s,’’ Smith said this week.

‘‘We’re not out for any type of acknowledg­ement this week other than wanting to play well ...’’

Ranged against Smith and Bellamy tomorrow will be the fatherands­on team of Ivan and Nathan Cleary, who have driven the revival of a club based in the shadow of the Blue Mountains, which mark the western limits of Sydney.

They have done it in some style, playing an effervesce­nt brand of rugby league that has often overwhelme­d their opponents, including double defending champion the Sydney Roosters and the South Sydney Rabbitohs in the playoffs.

Halfback Nathan Cleary has enjoyed the best season of his career under the tutelage of his coach father, orchestrat­ing the attack with strong running, deft passing and accurate kicking from both hand and tee.

Even if he will be coming up against the supreme onfield commander in Smith tomorrow, he is determined to enjoy his first title decider.

‘‘I’ve always wanted to play in a grand final. To be able to do it with Dad, it’s pretty special,’’ he said. — Reuters




 ?? PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES ?? Glittering career . . . Cameron Smith, captain of the Melbourne Storm.
PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES Glittering career . . . Cameron Smith, captain of the Melbourne Storm.

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