Clash of the titans


TOMORROW night’s Storm-Panthers National Rugby League (NRL) clash shapes as the unstoppable force meeting the immovable object, as the best ever attack and all-time greatest defence of the NRL era go head to head (7.35pm kick-off).
Melbourne’s 652 points is the biggest tally ever racked up after 18 matches in the history of first-grade rugby league in this country.
It is easily the most of any team of the NRL era, bettering the 2002 Warriors and Knights by almost 100 points, with this year’s Rabbitohs the fourth-best ever.
Meanwhile, Penrith’s 185 points is the fewest to ever be conceded by any side of the NRL era, with the 2010 Dragons the only other club to have let in fewer than 200 points after 18 games.
There have been a handful of sides since four-point tries were introduced in 1983 to maintain a slightly tighter defence through 18 games, with the 1997 Super League Sharks (176 points conceded in 18 games), the 1996 Sea Eagles (151 and the best of the modern era) and 1989 Rabbitohs (179) the teams to keep a tighter defence through 18 games.
Before that you have to go back to three-point tries and the great Roosters teams of the mid-70s and legendary St George sides of the 1960s for a better defensive record.
Admittedly, Penrith’s staunch defence will be tested not just by Melbourne’s irrepressible attack but by the absences of a host of stars, including defensive stalwarts Isaah Yeo and James Fisher-Harris.
Nathan Cleary’s absence will also be key – he’s not just the form playmaker of the NRL but one of the game’s best defensive halves.
Simply put, the level of dominance of these two teams compared with the other 14 sides this year is remarkable.
The Storm have scored 40 or more points in a match a remarkable 11 times this year.
Winger Josh Addo-Carr scored an historic six tries in one game against Souths in round nine and has 21 for the season, with only Rabbitoh and Papua New Guinea Kumuls fullback Alex Johnston (24) ahead of him.
“I think I have fun playing footy every weekend, training every day,” he said of his try-scoring exploits this year.
“It’s such a good bunch of boys to be alongside (in the backline) and I just think it goes to show that we care about each other on the field.
“It just shows every week. We train really hard in the pre-season and during the season to score tries and do all our plays.
“We do so much repetition during the week, every day, and that’s why we get so excited about scoring tries because we work so hard on it.”
Panthers fullback Dylan Edwards believed limiting the Storm’s key playmakers would go a long way to restricting their free-flowing attack.
“You just look at their halves and their hookers,” Edwards said.
“They’re obviously great ball-runners, they play eyes-up footy and play what they see so they’re a big key to what they do so we’ll be looking to try and limit them as much as we can.”
Forward Kurt Capewell hoped for some defensive improvement after a couple of weeks below the Panthers’ own lofty standards.
“In the two years since I’ve been at the club, defence has definitely been a priority for us,” Capewell said.
“Unfortunately, the last couple of weeks, we’ve missed the mark on that.
“We’re doing everything we can to get better each game.
“We’re missing a little bit of connection there in defence, but we’ll work on that and hopefully come out and shut down Melbourne this week.” – NRL