Dragons v Panthers preview
St George Illawarra Dragons v Penrith Panthers
Not only do the Dragons have to bounce back from their heavy defeat to the Broncos last weekend, they'll also have to overcome the recent history against them if they are to beat the Panthers on Thursday.
Having failed to beat the Panthers since 2011, a win here for the Dragons is essential if they are to keep their footing in the finals race. They currently sit in eighth but are tied with the resurgent Sea Eagles on 24 competition points on the Telstra Premiership ladder.
Making matters more difficult for the Red V is the amount of confidence Penrith would've gained after ending their five-game losing streak in Round 23 by defeating the Warriors by 14 points.
Penrith though will have to make do without now retired veteran Nigel Plum, as Tyrone Peachey returns to the forwards to allow for Isaac John's return at five-eighth.
St George Illawarra welcome back Benji Marshall from a hamstring tear at halfback which sees Jack de Belin return to the bench in place of Drew Hutchinson. Dylan Farrell replaces Nathan Green on the wing while Jake Marketo joins a five-man bench including 18th man Mark Ioane.
Watch out Dragons: Tag teaming with Bryce Cartwright between playing in the back row and at five-eighth last start, Panthers utility Tyrone Peachey arguably had his best game of the season against the Warriors. Racking up a game-high 236 metres, eight tackle breaks, a try and an unbelievable four line breaks, Peachey showed he can be livewire when he wants to be.
Watch out Panthers: The Dragons were dusted up by 26 points against Brisbane but their fullback Josh Dugan still stood tall. You would struggle to find a game this year where the New South Wales and Australian representative hasn't thrived. Against the Broncos Dugan handled the ball 26 times for 255 metres, made three offloads and broke three tackles.
Key Match-Up: Leeson Ah Mau v Reagan Campbell-Gillard. Having partaken in every game possible for their respective teams this season, Panther Reagan Campbell-Gillard and Dragon Leeson Ah Mau have carved themselves out quite a couple of campaigns. While Ah Mau is now a 100-game veteran – averaging 109.5 metres and 26.3 tackles per game – he will have to combat one of the game's best rookies in Campbell-Gillard who is producing almost identical numbers in attack and defence.
The History: Played 28; Dragons 16, Panthers 12. The Panthers haven't lost in Wollongong since the Dragons last beat them back in 2011. Penrith have in fact won six of their past seven meetings with the Red V after recovering from a six-game losing streak between 2006 and 2009.
What are the Odds: The money is running two to one in favour of the Dragons according to Sportsbet, with St George Illawarra winning by a 1-12 margin is the most popular bet. Dugan is easily the best backed player to score the game's opening try. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match Officials: Referee – Ashley Klein; Assistant Referee – Alan Shortall; Sideline Officials – Steve Carrall and Kasey Badger; Video Referees – Steve Chiddy and Henry Perenara.
Televised: Channel Nine (Live) – 7:30pm
The Way We See It: It's reached the point of the year where it's do or die, sink or swim, and any other cliché you can cook up for the Dragons. You'd imagine they would be filthy with the way they performed at Suncorp Stadium, which spells bad news for the Panthers. Looking to avoid the failure of missing the finals – after such a promising start to the year – the Red V should do a number on the mountain men. Dragons by 10 points.