Greg Prichard,, NRL.com
Dragons v Panthers
WIN Jubilee Oval
The Panthers have been a revelation in the past two rounds. In back-to-back home games they have beaten premiers the Storm 12-10, and minced the Warriors 62-6. The signs of improvement were there when they beat the Eels and hung in for a while before the red-hot Roosters got away from them, but no-one saw them racking up a total of 74 points and conceding just 16 in their two most recent appearances.
The Dragons are trying hard to get their act together, and the addition of former Raiders fullback Josh Dugan won’t hurt – as long as he keeps his nose out of trouble. Dugan produced a good first-up performance for the Red V in their 32-12 win over the Eels last weekend. It was the biggest score recorded by the Dragons this season, and came directly after a 15-14 loss to the Titans in which their previous limitations in attack cost them dearly.
The Panthers have curiosity value now. Will the spotlight put them off their game?
The Dragons lost their first three games of the season, won their next three and then lost three straight again before beating the Eels. Can they establish week-to-week consistency?
There are no changes to the Panthers’ starting side, and just one change to the bench. Ryan Simpkins is in and Sam Anderson out.
Matt Cooper returns at centre for the Dragons (at least on paper, as he has the past fortnight), with Matt Prior dropping to the bench. Mitch Rein is also back at hooker, with Cameron King going to the interchange. Damien Cook is relegated from the pine, which still has five players on it at this stage.
Watch Out Dragons: The Panthers are taking no prisoners at the moment. Their forward pack must be on a diet of raw meat, because they are showing their claws like we haven’t seen for a while.
It starts up front, where Tim Grant (149 metres, second most by a prop in the NRL) has perfected the mean look to go with his mean attitude and fellow prop Nigel Plum is tackling with a ferocity that would rank near the top in the league, and it flows through to the back row and bench.
Watch Out Panthers: Josh Dugan, when he is fit and on his game, will do whatever the opposition allows him to do – and more. His confidence doesn’t need much boosting, but it still would have risen as a result of his two-try performance on debut in a winning Dragons side against the Eels. He made seven tackle busts and more than 200 running metres too. If the Panthers let him run, they are in for a whole world of trouble.
Plays To Watch: Here’s one that could quickly develop now that Dugan is at the Dragons. Prop Dan Hunt has got a good offload, and Dugan doesn’t mind floating around the centre of the field looking for someone to run off. Don’t be surprised if they find each other.
Panthers coach Ivan Cleary is working his interchange of hookers superbly. When James Segeyaro comes off the bench, he tends to light things up with his speed and opportunism out of dummy-half against a tiring defence.
Key Match-Up: Dragons five-eighth Jamie Soward and Panthers halfback Luke Walsh will be working their butts off to try to outdo each other in the playmaking and kicking in general play departments.
Walsh has been on fire recently, while Soward has had some good moments without being great. Each player is so important to his team’s chances that a man-of-the-match performance by either would guarantee a win.
Where It Will Be Won: The mentality is going to play a big role here. The Dragons have had some flat spots in matches that have cost them dearly this season. The Panthers have looked like world-beaters recently, so there is pressure on them to keep it up. The team that can put the blinkers on and work hardest for 80 minutes will get the win.
The History: Played 24; Dragons 16, Panthers 8. The Dragons have won seven of the past nine clashes between the sides, although Penrith won in golden point the last time they played in Round 10 last season.
Match Officials: Referees – Adam Devcich & Chris James; Sideline officials – Ricky MacFarlane & Luke Potter; Video referees – Paul Mellor & Reece Williams.
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Televised: Fox Sports 1 – Live, 5.30pm.
The Way We See It: If the Panthers can take their great form at home in the last two rounds on the road for this game, then they will be right in it, but it makes sense to tip the Dragons at home. It’s a lot to expect a Panthers side that is still essentially in rebuilding mode to keep it up, especially without the home-ground advantage. Dragons by eight points.
*Statistics: NRL Stats.