The premiership finals are two rounds away and the fight for the last spots inside the bottom half of the top 8 makes this contest have huge bearings on its order. The St. George Illawarra Dragons will travel away to Pepper Stadium to take on the red hot Penrith Panthers for an exciting Sunday afternoon match, for the Dragons this is a must win game for there to be any hope of them making the finals while the Panthers are looking to potentially place in the top four or host a week one final.

LAST TIME OUT

The Panthers were tasked with going down to Canberra to play the Raiders last round in a massive game in the context of the season. The two sides have had a great rivalry in the past year with the Panthers exiting the 2016 finals in Canberra, however the run that the away side is having with 6 straight wins has put them in a better position the last rounds before finals. Both teams were going at each other with strong impact from each forward making each tackle heard, the Penrith side was able to get away with a try to Waqa Blake within 3 minutes of play waking up the Raiders to the importance of winning. It was then back and forth between the tries having the score 14-10 with only a minute to go before a sideways run to then pounce on lazy defence had Panthers winger Josh Mansour carry himself and defenders over the line to make the away side ahead by 10 points. Raiders regrouped after half time to put on two quick tries down their formidable right side edge to go ahead 22-20. Leading by just two points the home side was desperately hanging on with a few sets going towards the Panthers but eventually would crack due to a try from bench utility Tyrone May jump out of dummy next to the posts finishing the match 26-22.

The Dragons last round clash had them up against premiership heavyweights Brisbane Broncos at Suncorp. The away team had its preparation hiccups with the squad suffering sickness as well as players being injured in training, though with the changes it would always be a massive upset if they were to win. Having their finals on a lifeline the Dragons were promising in the opening exchanges but a few errors to them would let the Broncos in for their first try of the night. The match was evenly matched for the first half with it finishing 14-6 to Brisbane, the St. George side was finding it hard to contain the adlib play with their right edge defence crumbling to the home team and letting in another try to second rower Alex Glenn from lovely hands by the Broncos close to the line 10 minutes into the second half. Another raid down their left edge the home side found winger Corey Oates in the 68th minute to put the game to bed 24-12 leaving the Dragons finals hopes in a dangerous position.

KEY BATTLE

This Sunday afternoon blockbuster features many matchups that will have a huge account on how the two sides will finish, out of them all the key battle between the hookers will have significance towards the outcome of the game. Both Peter Wallace and Cameron McInnes have important roles within their sides, marshalling their forwards as well as playing as another playmaker these hookers are vital players in this fixture.

Dragons number nine Cameron McInnes has been a key factor in his sides success in 2017, the St. George hooker only in his first year at the club has contributed tremendously with both in attack and defence. The matchup between him and his opposition counterpart will produce the outcome in many ways, McInnes with a fairly new halves paring having formed in his side will need to construct plays for his forwards as well as give great service to his backs if they are to topple Penrith. Cameron has recorded 26 tackle breaks, 6 line break assists and try assists this season showing strengths in scooting from marker linking up with his second rowers and props to score close to the line or exploiting tired defence. McInnes at his best will need to produce a performance with solid tackling as he has all year only missing 24 over the course and while using his playmaking skills short of the line to assist with his halves to get the needed result to overcome a Panthers side that has plenty of points throughout their squad.

The Panthers hooker Peter Wallace has had a disrupted season due to injury earlier in the year, since returning he has helped his side to five out of the seven straight wins that have the Penrith team in incredible form going into finals. In what is one of the youngest teams in the competition the work and leadership that Wallace provides to his side goes a long way into how well they perform, with such a new halves combination blooming at the foot of the mountains the hooker is instrumental in providing both tackles and passing to his playmakers. Although having played less minutes then his opposite hooker he has achieved an impressive 410 run metres which would be from either pushing out of dummy half or supporting his team through a line break Wallace’s impact in the middle will reflect the outcome of the Panthers game. The home side will be looking to see a near perfect game from their hooker with him chiming in when halfback Nathan Cleary needs assistance whether it be with kicks or managing the game, the Dragons will need to shut down Peter Wallace so that his support to his team is limited and can’t change the pace of the match.

PREDICTION

This match is a must win for the Dragons who are sitting just outside the top 8 with two rounds left, the Panthers are hosting their last home game of the season and will be eager to get a win to keep their advantageous spot in the finals cemented. The last time these two met was back in the round 1 the Dragons thumped the Penrith side by 32 points, the score line will be much closer than that but with the season on the line for the Dragons side it could be too important for them to let slip. The Panthers haven’t been convincing against top sides this year and will find this a real challenge especially in the middle, with their skipper Matt Moylan out with an injury again making the task a bit too hard for the likes of Cleary and Tyrone May to handle against a full strength and desperate Dragons team.

Dragons by 6

SQUADS

Penrith Panthers vs St. George Illawarra Dragons, Sunday 27th August, 4pm at Pepper Stadium.

Panthers: 1. Dylan Edwards 2. Josh Mansour 3. Tyrone Peachey 4. Waqa Blake 5. Dallin Watene Zelezniak 6. Tyrone May 7. Nathan Cleary 8. James Tamou 9. Peter Wallace 10. Regan Campbell-Gillard 11. Corey Harawira 12. Isaah Yeo 13. James Fisher-Harris 14. Sione Katoa 15. Bryce Cartwright 16. Tim Browne 17. Trent Merrin 18. Moses Leota 19. Dean Whare 20. Viliame Kikau 21. Kaide Ellis

Dragons: 1. Matthew Dufty 2. Nene Macdonald 3. Josh Dugan 4. Timoteo Lafai 5. Jason Nightingale 6. Gareth Widdop 7. Kurt Mann 8. Leeson Ah Mau 9. Cameron McInnes 10. Paul Vaughan 11. Tyson Frizell 12. Joel Thompson 13. Jack de Belin 14. Tariq Sims 15. Hame Sele 16. Blake Lawrie 17. Josh McCrone 18. Taane Milne 19. Kalifa Faifai Loa 20. Luciano Leilua 21. Will Matthews