Craig Bellamy says his Melbourne side face a tough test against an in-form Penrith team in Monday night’s NRL encounter at Sportingbet Stadium.

Melbourne coach Craig Bellamy has heaped praise upon Penrith and says the Panthers are no longer the NRL’s surprise packets but genuine premiership contenders.

The Panthers have lost just once at home this season and on Monday night host a Storm side that has to beat Ivan Cleary’s side to maintain their push for a finals spot.

The Storm will move up to fifth with a win but defeat would leave them vulnerable in seventh spot on 28 points.

North Queensland and Parramatta have the same number of points and Brisbane, the Warriors and St George Illawarra all sit on 26 points with two rounds of the season remaining.

Two-time premiership-winning coach Bellamy is fully aware of the difficult task his side face and has been hugely impressed with how Cleary has turned Penrith around.

“It’s a huge challenge for us, they’re running third in the comp and they’ve not had an easy run of late either,” Bellamy said.

“They’ve got good depth and certain style of footy and everyone buys into it and sticks to it.

“They’re not going well because they are lucky they are going well because they are a good side.

“Their defence has improved from last year and the plan and structure they’ve got they are sticking to. At times it’s simple but simple is often the best.”