Best display of the season: Cleary
Panthers coach Ivan Cleary has labelled his team's 16-4 victory over the Dragons "the best 80-minute display" of the season as they consolidated their spot in the top four.
Penrith conceded first points in the seventh minute but held out the home side for the remainder of the game despite once again finishing the contest without a full compliment of players.
For the third week in a row, Cleary was forced to undergo in-game surgery after winger David Simmons succumbed to concussion just before the break.
But his patched-up side, already without big guns Peter Wallace, Brent Kite and Elijah Taylor, held on for one of their more impressive wins of the season.
"I definitely felt today, particularly in defence, it was the best 80-minute display [of the season], just in the composure," Cleary said after the win.
"We knew what we had to do. Whether we were fresh or we were tired, we were able to come up with stops. And they throw a fair bit at you the Dragons, they've got some good players out there."
Chief playmaker Jamie Soward, in his first game back at WIN Stadium since his dramatic exit midway through last season, took Man of the Match honours with a dominant performance off the boot.
Asked whether he was happy with a win over his old teammates at his former stomping ground, Soward smiled sheepishly and replied, "A little bit".
But the Panthers' stand-in skipper played down his homecoming and was more elated with the performance of his teammates, who sit just below the second-placed Rabbitohs on percentages.
"Last week was important for us and this week was just the same. I took the emotion out of it early. We played them earlier in the year so that was more nerve-racking than this week," he said.
"But I couldn't be prouder of our boys. Our forward pack stood up. They've got a lot of offloaders and we defended pretty good all game."
Cleary was effusive with the effort of his new halfback, who has shouldered the responsibility of their entire attack since Wallace's injury.
"Jamie's now our main organiser so his game's slightly restricted in that sense, whereas before Pete used to most of the organising," Cleary said.
"But he understands that the job now and full credit to him because the last couple of weeks he's been really good. Not just organising, but leading the boys as well. Full credit to Sowie, he's very important to our team."
The win sets up a blockbluster clash next Monday night against arguably the NRL's hottest team in the fourth-placed Cowboys at home, where the Panthers haven't played in over a month.
"We've got four big games to go. Cowboys are obviously on fire at the moment, pretty much a full roster by the looks of it, and they're all playing well," Cleary said.
"It'd be good to go back home. It seems like we've hardly been there, I think one game in seven weeks. So definitely be nice to get back home. Hopefully [we] get some local support behind us.
"There are no easy games in the NRL anyway, but we've definitely got a tough one coming up next week."