Penrith Panthers v Melbourne Storm, rivalry, round 22, hubris, Ivan Cleary, Matt Tripp, Greg Alexander, Cameron Smith

Penrith Panthers v Melbourne Storm, rivalry, round 22, hubris, Ivan Cleary, Matt Tripp, Greg Alexander, Cameron Smith

The most explosive clash of the NRL season is set to unfold when Penrith host Melbourne on Thursday night in the wake of a bitter war of words between the clubs.

They’re the two most successful teams, alongside the Roosters, of the past five years and will meet in a highly-anticipated top-four showdown.

The Storm and Panthers have ended each other’s campaigns in arguably the two best games of the past two seasons.

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Melbourne won the premiership after Penrith finished on top of the ladder in 2020 and then those roles were reversed last year.

The rivalry between the past two premiers is the fiercest in the game right now.

Panthers players were outraged by Instagram videos after the 2020 grand finale and they got their revenge by knocking the Storm out in an epic preliminary final last year.

“They don’t like each other,” The Australian’s Brent Read said on NRL360 on Wednesday about the rivalry

“It’s been evident for a while that these teams dislike each other but it’s gone up a notch this week.”

Both teams will be missing key cavalry for the blockbuster at BlueBet Stadium but tensions will still be sky high with plenty on the line for both teams in the run to the finals.

The Panthers were superb last week against the Canberra Raiders without the State of Origin halves pairing of Nathan Cleary and Jarome Luai, but things get even tougher with James Fisher-Harris now suspended.

The latest chapter in the clubs’ fierce rivalry is now set to be written after Panthers great Greg Alexander and Storm legend Cameron Smith traded barbs throughout the week.

The Panthers and Storm have built quite the rivalry. Greg Alexander (left) and Cameron Smith (right). GettySource: FOX SPORTS

That stoush over who is responsible for an influx of dangerous tackles in the game quickly escalated.

“I thought it was just a general consensus that over the last 20 years that all the tackles, the wrestling techniques had come out of Melbourne,” Alexanders said after Smith blew up at his initial accusation.

The exchange between Alexander and Smith prompted a stunning outburst from Melbourne’s chairman and owner Matt Tripp.

Tripp blasted Penrith deputy chairman Alexander’s comments as “stupid” and accused the reigning premiers of arrogance.

“Absolutely unfair,” Clearly said of Tripp’s comments.

“I’m not here to judge anyone else. But I know that Brandy (Alexander) is an outstanding commentator and a decorated figure in the game. If anyone’s able to have an opinion it’s Brandy.

“Most of his opinions are spot on. But that was his opinion of him in a completely different role. So, I don’t think it’s fair for everyone else at our club to be labeled what we were, but these things happen sometimes.”

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Following Tripp’s blow-up, the Storm were then accused of having a “chip on their shoulder” by the NRL 360 panel who also believe the Panthers will use Tripp’s comments as motivation.

“There’s going to be plenty of spice, it’s going to be a great game,” Paul Crawley said.

“The Storm are in a bit of strife on the field and they really have to show some signs of fighting back and I just can’t see how they’re going to do that against the Panthers.”

“What I’m fascinated with is the chairman versus the deputy chairman, Tripp versus Alexander,” Paul Kent said.

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“Some of the things that Tripp said about Penrith, he said the club was arrogant, he turned from criticism of Greg Alexander into criticism of the club.

“And I’ll tell you one thing about Penrith, when you criticize them, they respond to it and they’re very good at coming out and saying ‘is this what you think about us, well we’ll show you what we think about you’ and they deliver.”

Brent Read believes Alexander may have tactically brought up the tackling argument ahead of the clash.

“At this time of year, this invariably raises its head, you point the finger at Melbourne and say they invented the wrestle and it’s just an easy argument,” Read said.

“I’m it doesn’t hurt Penrith (this week).”

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Read also defended any perceived arrogance from Penrith players during matches.

“On the field they play with swagger. They play with a bit of arrogance. You have got to have that to be successful.”

Braith Anasta agreed that arrogance can be a powerful tool for a sporting team when used correctly.

“In any sport you have got to have confidence,” Anasta said.

Some people think they cross the line a little bit but you need confidence. You need a little bit of arrogance. You need to go out there thinking, I’ve got you covered.”

Storm star Jahrome Hughes apologized earlier this season after being named as the main culprit in 2020 grand final celebration footage mocking Panthers players’ Mt Druit roots.

Panthers center Stephen Crichton revealed the footage was used as motivation, sparking their stunning 2021 preliminary final win over Melbourne.

To motivate his players prior to the 2021 preliminary final, assistant coach Cameron Ciraldo saved the clip.

Ciraldo told his players in the lead-up to the Panthers’ huge 10-6 win they needed to “protect where you come from”.

– with Martin Gabor