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NRL match preview: Penrith Panthers vs St George-Illawarra Dragons

Squads

Sunday, Aug 10, Dragons v Panthers, WIN Stadium, 3pm

Dragons: Adam Quinlan, Brett Morris, Josh Dugan, Gerard Beale, Jason Nightingale, Gareth Widdop, Benji Marshall, Ben Creagh, Mitch Rein, Michael Cooper, Leeson Ah Mau, Joel Thompson, Jack de Belin. Interchange: Bronson Harrison, Trent Merrin, Will Matthews, Jack Stockwell, Shane Pumipi, Dan Hunt

Panthers: Matt Moylan, Josh Mansour, Dean Whare, Jamal Idris, David Simmons, William Smith, Jamie Soward, Nigel Plum, James Segeyaro, Sam McKendry, Sika Manu, Isaah Yeo, Adam Docker. Interchange: Lewis Brown, Jeremy Latimore, Matt Robinson, Tim Grant, Kevin Kingston, Sam Anderson, Ryan Simpkins

Kevin Kingston and Tim Grant set to return from exile

Elijah Taylor, Brent Kite and Bryce Cartwright were the latest long term injury problems facing the Penrith Panthers after a great win over Canterbury Bulldogs last Friday night.  Thankfully there’s depth and form in the newly crowned minor premiers VB NSW Cup side.  Tim Grant is named on the bench to play his first National Rugby League game since May 18 in our win against the Raiders in the Nations Capital.  Kevin Kingston hasn’t played in the top grade since April 26 in our loss to the Sharks.  It says a lot about the fine form of James Segeyaro as the Panthers went from a win-loss cycle type of team, to a team who won six on the trot who now sit third on the ladder.  Will Smith will play his second National Rugby League game alongside Jamie Soward who returns to WIN Stadium for the first time against his former club.  Isaah Yeo will play in the second row.  A good lineup considering Ivan Cleary’s casualty ward.

Panthers injury update (courtesy of penrithpanthers.com.au)

ELIJAH TAYLOR: Ruptured his ACL during the Bulldogs game. He is out for the season.

BRENT KITE: Tore his pec during the Bulldogs game, but it’s not as bad as we first thought. He will be out for 4-6 weeks

BRYCE CARTWRIGHT: Fractured his fibula and did some ligament damage to his ankle which will require surgery. He will be out for 6 months

PETER WALLACE: Ruptured his ACL during the Sharks game. He is out for the season.

TYRONE PEACHEY: Suffered a pec tear and will have surgery this week. He is out for the season.

ISAAC JOHN: Ruptured his achilles in round 9. Out for the season.

GEORGE JENNINGS: He dislocated his elbow in our Auckland Nines quarter final and underwent surgery to repair the damage. Out for the season

SHAUN SPENCE: He is being rested for the remainder of the year after suffering a few concussions. He will hopefully be back for pre-season training.

Dan Hunt named to play 150th

St George-Illawarra have named Dan Hunt on an extended bench as the Dragons try to keep their finals hopes alive.  He hasn’t played National Rugby League for a few months now which saw the forward stuck on 149 career matches.  Bronson Harrison is another notable inclusion on a six man bench named by Paul McGregor.  Last weekend’s loss over the Sydney Roosters means the Dragons will need to win almost all of their remaining matches and hope their points differential improves if they are to be a slim chance of finals footy in 2014.  It’s a talented side with Josh Dugan, Brett Morris, Gareth Widdop and Benji Marshall the keys to the Dragons chances in this game.

Panthers have won four of the last five against the Dragons

This is the thirtieth time the Dragons and Panthers have met since the St George-Illawarra franchise was created in 1999.  The Dragons lead the head to head victories with sixteen victories, Penrith eleven and two draws.  Penrith have won four of the last five.  The most recent game was a hard fought victory 18-14 at SportingBet Stadium on June 14.  In Wollongong, Penrith’s lone victory over St George-Illawarra was in 2006 when Preston Campbell’s field goal was the difference in a 13-12 victory.  Penrith last played in Wollongong in 2011 when they were hammered 12-32 with Brett Morris scoring a double.  The Dragons are five wins from ten matches at home in 2014 while Penrith are five wins from ten matches away.

What could happen

This should be a high quality game considering the Dragons desperation to keep their finals hopes alive, and Penrith’s ability to defend well for long parts of the game.  A demonstration of Penrith’s good defense was their sixty-five minute shut-out of the Bulldogs last weekend until the weight of possession went in the home sides favour and they managed a few late consolation tries.

The Dragons will attack from the offset with Josh Dugan and Benji Marshall to be heavily involved.  International quality flyers Brett Morris and Jason Nightingale are on the wings, with the latter leading the Dragons top try scorers with twelve.  Trent Merrin is set to provide plenty of impact from the bench and has been one of the best forwards for the Dragons this season.  Ben Creagh will shoulder a lot of responsibility in a forward pack that lacks size.  Creagh has a dangerous offload that could cause some trouble for the Panthers defense.  I will find it quite odd if the Dragons play this game through the middle with the ‘bash brothers’ Adam Docker and Nigel Plum starting the game.  They may try to expose Dean Whare in defense out wide and put plenty of pressure with torpedo kicks to Matt Moylan.  The Dragons average nineteen points per game this season, but twenty-two in their past five matches in winning three of those matches.

Penrith will pride their game on defense and rely on Jamie Soward getting them around the park.  As mentioned earlier the Panthers defense for three quarters of Friday night’s epic win over the Bulldogs was exceptional.  James Segeyaro was in sensational form in scoring a double and was also the top tackler with thirty-seven.  It was an important return for Dave Simmons and Josh Mansour for the side after being injured.  Mansour took the pressure of the forward pack with some good runs through the guts of the Bulldogs defense and Dave Simmons was solid in a winning side.  Despite the injuries facing the squad the good news is that the back line continues to be strong.  Matt Moylan and Soward’s combination will be important in steering the Panthers home in this one.  Whare is good in attack but will need to tighten up in defense.  Offloads could be where the Panthers get the edge.  Creagh is the Dragon’s best offloader.  But Penrith can go to Jamal Idris and Jeremy Latimore to create some second phase play.  In the forwards Penrith have the experience with Sika Manu and Sam McKendry to lead from the front.  Docker and Plum bashed the Dragons pack in the corresponding away fixture at Kogarah last year and I expect something similar to happen.  Penrith have averaged twenty-two points in their last five matches which is on par with their season average.  Like the Dragons, Penrith’s won three of their last five.

Panthers win will secure finals berth

If Penrith can diffuse Benji Marshall and keep an eye on Dugan and Nightingale, the points will head west.  Matt Moylan might just own this afternoon with his good defending of the torpedo kick and the positioning he creates in attack that can lead to points.  Defensively, the forward pack should be able to get on top of the Dragons and put added pressure on the outside men which could lead to error with their season on the line.  Penrith by 8 and a finals berth is secure.



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