Penrith Panthers and Melbourne Setting Early Pace in Australia’s Most Popular Sports Leagues

The NRL and AFL are two of Australia’s most watched sports leagues during the Southern Hemisphere winter months, yet two teams in these respective competitions have dominated the early part of the season.

In rugby league, Penrith Panthers won their first 10 games of the Telstra Premiership storming a march on Greater Sydney rivals Parramatta Eels and South Sydney Rabbitohs, and the defending NRL champs Melbourne Storm who lead the chasing pack.

Penrith’s winning streak that propelled them to the top of the ladder has been built on the perfect combination of a strong defense and potent attack. Nathan Cleary’s kicking game has been superb, and he leads the goals and points scored stats.

Tries from him, plus the likes of Charlie Staines, Brian To’o, Matt Burton and Viliame Kikau, have put the Panthers in a commanding position. They have averaged just over 30 points per game from their first 10 NRL matches, conceding just a mean of seven at the other end.

That is a recipe for success, and it’s no wonder that Penrith are the current favorites both to finish top of the standings come the end of the regular season, and to win the NRL Grand Final in October. The winning habit has created momentum, and that makes them the team to beat in Australian rugby league this year.

No streak lasts forever, though, and AFL pacesetters Melbourne know that only too well after their winning sequence came to an end courtesy of an agonizing one-point defeat by the Crows at the Adelaide Oval. They had won their first nine matches of the Australian rules football season but lost their spot atop the ladder to the Western Bulldogs on points percentage.

It is now simply a matter of how tough-tackling team Melbourne respond to their first setback of the season. James Jordon and Clayton Oliver aren’t afraid to take down opponents, as evidenced by the fact that both are high in the tackling charts.

Oliver is also among the leaders for disposals, but the Bulldogs have Jack Macrae high on that stat. He is widely recognized as one of the top ball-winners in the AFL today. Coupled with the goal threat of Josh Bruce, it’s easy to see how that team has kept pace with Melbourne.

Going into the tenth round of matches, the Aussie Rules betting on the AFL Grand Final had the two teams joint-favorites but the Bulldogs have now emerged as market leaders. This should be a competitive battle between the two, and don’t be surprised if Melbourne lay a marker down after seeing their streak snapped on the road.

Competitive sport is part of the Australian spirit, and two of their national games are really hoting up nicely now. The Panthers may not be caught, but there are lessons in Melbourne’s recent experience that should warn them of complacency. Bringing the NRL Premiership back to Western Sydney for the first time in 18 years after Penrith went so close last season would be a big deal.