One of the biggest matches of the season is set to be played out with Penrith Panthers taking on the St George Illawarra Dragons, in what will be a top of the table clash on Saturday night at Panthers Stadium.
TEAM FORM GUIDE
It was a sublime performance for the Penrith side last round against the Wests Tigers. Many penalties were given throughout the fixture however the errors and lack of attacking flair from the Tigers found them in trouble losing to a red-hot Panthers team 16-2 at fulltime.
St George-Illawarra Dragons
The Dragons after a shocking loss to the Rabbitohs were tasked with containing a Canberra side on a winning run at Mudgee. A 10 all scoreline at the halftime looked any teams chance to win, however a tremendous try by Matt Dufty in the 70th minute allowed the Dragons to scrape a 25-18 win.
Penrith remains unchanged, with hooker Peter Wallace still unavailable to play.
St George-Illawarra Dragons
St George-Illawarra Dragons kept their side the same after last week’s win over Canberra.
This game is highly anticipated and will feature a plethora of possible Origin players in this coming series on the eve of selection. Both sides packs are the current best crop of youth, size and talent with potentially up to seven forwards in contention for Origin, with two brilliant forward packs, they will however cancel each other out. It comes down to the key match-up between a hopeful halfback in Nathan Cleary and a favourite for the Queensland side Ben Hunt to shape the outcome of this critical 1 v 2 face-off.
Cleary after a 7-week stint off the field due to a knee injury returned against the Tigers last round, controlling his side to perfection taking off right where he left. The Penrith halfback was in the frame for Origin before his injury and now has only had two rounds to impress coach Brad Fittler to get the spot, with the match against ladder-leading Dragons his last chance. Nathan Cleary to get on top of such a strong opposition will need to get involved and hands-on as much as possible through taking the line on questioning the Dragons defence while using his incredible weight on kicks short and long to put the backs of St George in trouble.
New recruited Dragons halfback Ben Hunt has been a revelation for the side since moving there this season. Not having a genuine halfback for over a decade the St George side is loving having a halves partner for their consistent five-eighth Gareth Widdop, the combination of the two in these opening 11 rounds has been first class with Hunt organising play and kicking more for Widdop to then roam. One of Hunt’s best attributes is his running game and if he is to have a controlling game against the Panthers the halfback will need to cut into the line and assist squaring up his second rowers and outside men for points. Dragons if they are to win Hunt has got to put pressure on the inexperience of the Penrith back three with long kicks and high towering bombs so that they can not pose a threat with kick returns or assisting their forwards.
The Dragons are aiming for five straight victories over the Panthers. Dragons prop forward Jeremy Latimore’s plays his 150th game.
Penrith Panthers: 1 Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, 2 Christian Crichton, 3 Tyrone Peachey, 4 Dean Whare, 5 Tyrone Phillips, 6 James Maloney (c), 7 Nathan Cleary, 8 Trent Merrin, 9 Sione Katoa, 10 Reagan Campbell-Gillard, 11 Corey Harawira-Naera, 12 Isaah Yeo, 13 James Fisher-Harris
St George-Illawarra Dragons: 1 Matt Dufty, 2 Nene Macdonald, 3 Euan Aitken, 4 Tim Lafai, 5 Jason Nightingale, 6 Gareth Widdop (c), 7 Ben Hunt, 8 James Graham, 9 Cameron McInnes, 10 Paul Vaughan, 11 Tyson Frizell, 12 Tariq Sims, 13 Jack De Belin
THE IMPORTANT DETAILS
Date: Saturday 27th May
Venue: Panthers Stadium
Kick-off: 7:35 pm
Referee: Gerard Sutton
WHO WILL WIN?
In the round before Origin camp starts the stakes are high for players involved, in what is a huge showdown between two of the competitions most consistent this season. An interesting task for the home side in the Panthers who have not met with a current top 4 side since the opening rounds while the Dragons are in a bit of a slump coming off a loss two weeks ago and an average performance last round. Both sides are evenly matched across the park but it will be down to the halves pairing to take advantage of the limited opportunities they get as possession swings during the match. Having the home ground advantage and on a roll while Cleary pushing for a partnership with James Maloney in Origin will be too much for the visiting team in a nail-biting affair.
Prediction: Panthers by 6