Saturday’s matches for round 12 wraps up with an absolute blockbuster of a contest, as the Dragons return from Mudgee to the foot of the Blue Mountains, to tackle the Panthers. This match is undoubtedly the match of the round, as it is a top of the table clash, with the Dragons sitting at the summit of the NRL ladder, followed closely by the Panthers, who are one victory behind in second place.
The Panthers come into this ripper of a match on the back of two consecutive victories, following their shock loss to the Cowboys in Bathurst in round 9. Since then, the Mountain men have accounted for the Knights in Newcastle and the Tigers at home. Both matches showed the quality of the Panthers with regards to their composure. In fact, had they not have been denied three tries in the second half, the final scoreline could have been greater than 16-2. Either way, coach Anthony Griffin will be pleased to see his side placed high up the ladder.
The Dragons bounced back from their Mother’s Day loss to the Rabbitohs with a 25-18 victory over the Raiders. Although the game was a home game for them, it was actually played in regional NSW, where a record crowd was in attendance. Similar to their opponents, the Dragons were not at their best against the Raiders, however, they demonstrated their quality by crafting out a victory even while playing below the best, which would have pleased their coach, Paul McGregor.
As such, the Panthers will have an enormous amount of motivation to win this match, as they seek a third consecutive victory. Moreover, they will be eager to arrest a four-match losing streak against the Saints, having not beaten them since 2014. A win for the Panthers will see them sit in equal first place with their opponents. For the Dragons, they will be looking to consolidate on top spot, as well as continuing their solid recent and overall record against the Panthers. As such, they will definitely fancy their chances in this top of the table clash.
2017 - Round 25 - St George Illawarra Dragons 16 def. Penrith Panthers 14 at Panthers Stadium.
2017 - Round 1 - St George Illawarra Dragons 42 def. Penrith Panthers 10 at WIN Jubilee Oval.
2016 - Round 4 - St George Illawarra Dragons 14 def. Penrith Panthers 12 at WIN Stadium.
2015 - Round 24 - St George Illawarra Dragons 19 def. Penrith Panthers 12 at WIN Stadium.
2014 - Round 24 - Penrith Panthers 16 def. St George Illawarra Dragons 4 at WIN Stadium.
As can be seen above, the Dragons have been dominant in their recent encounters with the Panthers, emerging victorious in their last 4 encounters. That victory by the Panthers over the Dragons in 2014 in Wollongong saw the Mountain men defy a poor record in the Gong, as that was a very rare occurrence in which they would leave with the competition points (their first win there since 1991).
However, their overall record against the Dragons is not so great, winning only 12 of their 32 encounters with the joint venture club. The other 20 matches between the two were won by the Dragons. As for the overall matches between the two sides at Penrith, both sides have won 8 games each, which shows that the Dragons have few fears of travelling to the foot of the Blue Mountains.
|Penrith Panthers||St George Illawarra Dragons|
|1||Dallin Watene-Zelezniak||Matt Dufty|
|2||Christian Crichton||Nene MacDonald|
|3||Tyrone Peachey||Euan Aitken|
|4||Dean Whare||Tim Lafai|
|5||Tyrone Phillips||Jason Nightingale|
|6||James Maloney||Gareth Widdop|
|7||Nathan Cleary||Ben Hunt|
|8||Trent Merrin||James Graham|
|9||Sione Katoa||Cameron McInnes|
|10||Reagan Campbell-Gillard||Paul Vaughan|
|11||Corey Harawira-Naera||Tyson Frizell|
|12||Isaah Yeo||Tariq Sims|
|13||James Fisher-Harris||Jack De Belin|
|14||Wayde Egan||Jeremy Latimore|
|15||Jack Hetherington||Kurt Mann|
|16||Viliame Kikau||Leeson Ah Mau|
|17||James Tamou||Blake Lawrie|
|18||Jarome Luai||Reece Robson|
|19||Kaide Ellis||Zac Lomax|
|20||Tyrone May||Luciano Leilua|
|21||Thomas Eisenhuth||Hame Sele|
The facts that matter
In their last start victory over the Tigers, the Panthers may not necessarily have been at their best, however, some of the key statistics show that they were good value for their win. The Mountain men amassed 1777 metres for the match while forcing the Tigers to labour for 1335 metres. Moreover, the Panthers made 4 line breaks, compared to only one for the Tigers, as well as making 16 offloads to the Tigers’ 10. Another key factor in their victory is that they were able to restrict the Tigers to a sole penalty goal for the match, while also holding firm whilst they had a player in the sin bin.
The Panthers’ attack is one to be feared, as they have scored 249 points for the season. As such, they are ranked fourth in that facet of the game, with only their opponents for this match, the Dragons, along with the Rabbitohs and the Storm as the only teams ranked above them. Much has been made of the Panthers’ attack, but it’s their defence which is even more impressive. The Mountain men have only conceded 166 points for the season. Only their opponents for this match have conceded less points, with only a penalty goal the difference between the number of points conceded by each side for the season. The Panthers have a history of fighting until the end and will undoubtedly fancy their chances of upsetting the table toppers.
Although the Panthers have one home loss against their name this season, that loss came against the Cowboys in their home match in Bathurst over a fortnight ago. As such when you disregard this loss, they have not lost a match at the base of the Mountains, which will give them all the confidence they need, heading into this game.
The Dragons fighting qualities shone through in the end in their regional NSW encounter against the Raiders. The match was locked at 10-all at the break, and a few yardage errors threatened to allow the Raiders to cause an upset, however the Saints are made of sterner stuff, and were able to craft out a win even while not at their best. However, the statistics which proved vital in their win include meters gained, penalties conceded and missed tackles. The Saints amassed 1708 metres for the match (compared to the Raiders’ 1351, and conceded less penalties than their opponents last week, and missed fewer tackles than their opponents.
Similar to their opponents for this match, the Dragons’ attack is absolutely fearsome, as they are ranked first in attack, having scored almost 300 points for the season. As stated earlier, the next three teams to follow in attack ranking are the Rabbitohs, Storm, then the Panthers. However, they are 30 points better than the second-ranked team in attack. In terms of their defence, the Dragons are also ranked first in the NRL, having only conceded 164 points for the season. However, unlike their attack, the Dragons’ defence is followed closely by the Panthers, with only two points separating the two teams in defence.
As for the Dragons’ away form this season, it is quite a contrast to their home form. Whilst they have won two games away from home, they have lost as many away games. Given the fact that they have two losses for the season, both their losses have come away from home. However, they have a relatively fair record against the Panthers in Penrith, having won eight of sixteen matches at the foot of the Blue Mountains.
Given this is a top of the table clash and undoubtedly the match of the round, it will be of minimal surprise if a bumper crowd attends this match. It will be even less surprising if this match is filled with massive hits and enterprising play, as both sides are two of the best attacking and defensive sides in the NRL.
Both sides have ample motivation heading into this match. The home side are seeking a third consecutive victory, which will see them share top spot with their opponents. Moreover, they will be seeking revenge, having been twice beaten by the Dragons last season. In fact, they will be looking to snap a four-match losing streak against the Dragons, having not beaten them since 2014. The visitors will be looking to consolidate on two things. They will be looking to strengthen their grip on top spot of the ladder, as they are only one victory ahead of the Panthers, who are breathing down their necks. Moreover, the Dragons have a solid record against the Panthers and will be looking to solidify this record.
On that note, although the Panthers’ record against the Dragons is not so great, and the Saints have been quite consistent this season, this writer fancies their chances against the red and whites. The reason is that the Mountain men have not lost a match at the base of the Mountains this season, and there is a feeling that they have just that bit greater motivation than their opponents to win this match. It’s a flip of the coin, but I’ll tip the Panthers to topple the Dragons and claim a share of top spot. Panthers by 2.
Will the Dragons eek out a win on the road against the Panthers, or will the home side upset the league leaders? Let us know in the comments and poll below.