Panthers players respond after Melbourne Storm spotted in 'weird' training move

Craig Bellamy is ramping up the mind games ahead of the NRL preliminary final showdown.

Melbourne Storm squad members, pictured here wearing Penrith Panthers jerseys at training.
Melbourne Storm squad members were wearing Penrith Panthers jerseys at training. Image: Twitter

The Panthers have laughed off Melbourne's bizarre tactic that saw them wear Penrith jerseys at training ahead of the NRL preliminary finals. The Storm will take on the Panthers on Friday night, with a place in the grand final up for grabs.

The Panthers have had the wood over the Storm in recent times, winning both of their regular season match-ups in 2023 and five on the trot. Penrith prevailed 34-16 in round 18, before winning 26-6 in round 23. Ivan Cleary's men also won the last time the two sides clashed in a preliminary final, with the Panthers prevailing 10-6 in 2021.

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So there should be no surprise that Craig Bellamy is pulling out all the stops in an attempt to turn around the recent form guide, but the Storm went to extraordinary lengths at training on Tuesday. Photos emerged on social media of the Storm running an opposed session between their starters and reserves, with the reserves wearing Panthers jerseys.

One half of the squad were wearing their regular Storm training tops, while the other half were wearing black shirts with the Panthers logo and sponsors on them. Penrith-based journalist Peter Lang wrote on social media: "A Storm fan (I believe) has taken photos of Melbourne running what appears to be an opposed session against fellow teammates wearing Panthers jerseys…interesting idea…whatever helps you prepare I guess."

Panthers players respond to 'weird' Melbourne Storm move

The Panthers got wind of the interesting tactic later on Wednesday, with front-rower Moses Leota saying: "That was weird, it was the first time I have seen that. It is funny to see how other teams prepare."

Fellow front-rower James Fisher-Harris described the ploy as "smart", saying he wouldn't have any issues if Panthers coach Cleary employed something similar. "Whatever it is to help the team, that's why they're doing it," Fisher-Harris said.

Bench forward Lindsay Smith, who signed a two-year contract extension on Tuesday, said he has done his fair share of imitation during practice sessions. "We've never had to train in other teams jerseys," Smith said. "I saw that today and had a little giggle. For our boys that aren't playing each week they will try and emulate the opposition team, the Storm have found a different way to do that this week."

The photos captured the attention of NRL fans and went viral on social. "Surely this is a gee up? Gold," one person wrote. Another commented: "Teams do this stuff all the time, it’s all about the sports psychology. They probably have a few teammates pretending to [be] the players from the opposition."

Panthers and Storm name injured stars for preliminary final

Penrith and Melbourne both named injured playmakers Jarome Luai and Jahrome Hughes to play on Tuesday afternoon. Luai hasn't played since dislocating shoulder in round 26 against Parramatta, but is on track to return against the Storm.

The Panthers have used Jack Cogger at five-eighth to partner Nathan Cleary over the past month, and Cogger has been named in Penrith's extended squad as cover for Luai - who has been named at No.6. Gun centre Izack Tago has also overcome a pectoral injury to be named by Panthers coach Ivan Cleary.

Jarome Luai in action for the Penrith Panthers.
Jarome Luai has been named to return for the Penrith Panthers. (Photo by Jeremy Ng/Getty Images)

And the Storm named Hughes at halfback despite the No.7 missing last week's semi-final win over the Roosters with a calf injury. Hughes told reporters earlier this week that he was confident he would be able to play against the Panthers.

Tyran Wishart has been named on the bench after starting at halfback against the Roosters, but could still find himself beginning the game at hooker. Harry Grant has been named at No.9, but came off the bench last week in a tactical switch before kick-off. Winger Xavier Coates (ankle) is still sidelined for the Storm and wasn't named in their 22-man squad on Tuesday.

Reads 'NRL Finals 2023' with the cut out images of three players throwing a football - Cameron Munster, Nathan Cleary and Reece Walsh, with a backdrop of a football stadium.
Discover more of our NRL Finals coverage.

The Broncos and Warriors, who will clash in the second preliminary final on Saturday night, have both named unchanged teams. Brisbane coach Kevin Walters has once again gone with Jesse Arthars on the wing over Corey Oates.

The calf issue that ruled Shaun Johnson out of the first week of the finals appears to have cleared, while Marata Niukore has been named by the Warriors despite suffering a knee injury against the Knights last week.

NRL preliminary finals schedule:

  • Panthers v Storm - Friday 7.50pm, Accor Stadium

  • Broncos v Warriors - Saturday 7.50pm, Suncorp Stadium

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