Penrith preparing for "money time"
Penrith came second in almost every statistical category in its 18-14 win over the Dragons on Saturday night, except for the most important one: the scoreboard.
And that, coach Ivan Cleary said, was a good thing.
"We got put under pressure tonight but I thought [the Dragons] played pretty well. Their first half was good. They had a lot of ball, didn't make any errors," he said post-game.
"Through both Benji [Marshall] and Gareth Widdop, two very good players, they threw plenty at us. At the start of the second half we were under pressure and weren't really handling it that well at times.
"[It's a] good experience for us actually. We haven't really had that over the last few weeks. To come through with a win was good."
Holding an 18-10 lead with more than 20 minutes remaining, the Panthers struggled to put away an adventurous Dragons side that wasn't afraid to move the ball from side to side.
The visitors won the completion rate, error count and penalty count, but the second best defensive unit in the competition held on long enough to record their fifth win on the trot.
"They play a pretty attacking game, especially with Benji in tow," said captain Peter Wallace.
"They're pretty dangerous all over the park, so we scrambled well at times which is good. We worked hard for each other, so that was all there, which is really good going into the back half of the season."
Added Cleary: "We've got a lot to do yet. We've got some very hard games coming up. Our byes are pretty close together so we've got 11 games consecutively after our bye next week. It's a big, tough run, so there's much to do.
"We also feel like we're making progress as well. And tonight was another bit of progress where it wasn't all perfect by any stretch. We had some pressure on us, but somehow managed to hold them. Having said that, we're going to have to do better than what we did tonight."
South Sydney's victory over the Wests Tigers on Friday night temporarily lifted them above Penrith, but the Panthers regained top spot ahead of next week's bye on the back of a goal line defence Cleary said had improved dramatically over the past 12 months.
And with games against top eight teams the Tigers, Broncos, Roosters, Bulldogs, Cowboys, Storm and Sea Eagles still on the calendar, tonight's defensive test was a step in the right direction.
"If you're going to improve as a team, your defence has got to get better and there's a whole lot of things that go into that but at the moment our guys are working, they're on the same page," he said.
"There's some things we've got to iron out a little bit as well, but we were definitely tested tonight and for the most part we didn't do too bad. That's pleasing, but something that's got to stick solid under pressure when the money time comes, which is not too far away."