Cameron Munster’s fullback experiment has catapulted Melbourne back into NRL premiership calculations after the Storm held out ladder leaders Penrith to win 16-0 at Panthers Stadium.
Playing at the back for a second week, Munster again starred to help the Storm make their case for an eighth straight season in the NRL’s top four.
It came as Penrith’s title defense took another hit, with Liam Martin suffering suspected ankle syndesmosis and Moses Leota hurting his calf to add to their lengthy injury list.
The Panthers are far from panicking, given they sit well clear at the top and were without Nathan Cleary, Jarome Luai, Dylan Edwards and James Fisher-Harris on Thursday night.
But the Storm are a team clearly back in their groove after losing four straight games last month.
Missing Ryan Papenhuyzen, Jahrome Hughes and Felise Kaufusi themselves, they withstood more than 40 play-the-balls in their own 20-meter zone.
Time and time again they turned the Panthers away, becoming the first team to hold Penrith scoreless since way back in June 2015.
The win moved them two points clear of fifth-placed Parramatta and well above them on for-and-against, with the chasing pack one win further back.
Melbourne have to play Brisbane, the Sydney Roosters and Eels on the run home, but now look as if they are ready to match it with any of the trio.
Regular playmaker Munster was again crucial, and must now surely be an option to finish the season as the Storm’s No.1 after scoring a hat-trick there last week.
He was just as influential in defense as he was in attack, despite not playing at the back consistently since the Storm’s run to the 2016 grand final.
With Penrith dominating the ball in the second half, he pulled off a crucial try-saver on Brian To’o early on to keep Melbourne’s lead at 16-0.
From the next set he was able to swing the momentum in the Storm’s favour, breaking down the field to put them on the attack.
The 27-year-old also had a role to play in the Storm’s first try.
Given the freedom to roam at the back, Munster went shortside after a scoreless opening 18 minutes and helped put Justin Olam onto the attack before the center kicked back for Nick Meaney to score.
Brandon Smith went over from the next set, busting through Martin and Leota from the halfway line to make it 12-0.
Late season recruit David Nofoaluma got Melbourne’s third try after a nice Jesse Bromwich offload just before the break, before the Storm held on through a scoreless second half.