Dragons v Panthers: Schick Preview

Schick Hydro Preview: St George Illawarra Dragons v Penrith Panthers
UOW Jubilee Oval
Saturday, 4.30pm

It's been more than five months since either of these sides played an NRL match, but that hasn't stopped fans, punters and the media from making bold predictions for the Dragons and Panthers. 

There haven't been too many Dragons fans drinking from half-full glasses this pre-season with most people tipping another tough year for the Red V. 

Having missed the finals in four of the past five seasons, fans want to see an attacking rejig in 2017, and they'll need it against a Penrith side that is considered the Harlem Globetrotters of the competition. 

The Panthers surprised everyone but themselves to finish two wins shy of a grand-final berth last season, and their young brigade of entertainers are primed to go even further in 2017. 

Dragons coach Paul McGregor has resisted the urge to start with excitement-machine Jai Field in the No.7 jersey, instead opting for the experienced Josh McCrone at halfback. Field has been picked on the bench, while new singings Cameron McInnes and Paul Vaughan have been named in the run-on side. 

International pairing Peta Hiku and Dean Whare will make their respective returns on the wing, with Tyrone Peachey and Waqa Blake set to start the season in the centres. Te Maire Martin will have the No.6 on his back with Bryce Cartwright shifting to the back row. Former Dragon Mitch Rein has been named on an extended bench and looks unlikely to face his ex-teammates in Round 1. 

Why the Dragons can win: The Panthers simply do not like playing in Kogarah. With just four wins from 28 matches, it is their bogey ground. Penrith lost 16-straight matches at the venue, with their first win coming in 1982. However, they have enjoyed two wins from their past two trips to UOW Jubilee Oval (2010 and 2013). 

Why the Panthers can win: Last year's entertainers will start 2017 as joint-premiership favourites along with the Storm, with plenty of pundits predicting big things from the mountain men. The Panthers scored 222 more points than the Dragons last season, and with Te Maire Martin slated to start with Nathan Cleary in the halves, their attack looks even better. If the playmakers click from the get-go then we could be in for some first-class entertainment on Saturday afternoon. 

 


The history: Played 30; Dragons 18; Panthers 12. The Dragons hold a comfortable head-to-head advantage, but the Panthers have won five of the past seven encounters. The Red V won their only meeting last year with a late Josh Dugan try enough to get them home in a scrappy affair. 

What are the odds: Without doubt, Penrith are the best supported side of Round 1, and one of the shorter priced teams as a result. The only real money Sportsbet has seen on the Dragons has been at the line, where they're receiving a hefty points start. Panthers 13+ is holding more money than St George-Illawarra 1-12 and 13+ combined. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au.

Match officials: Referee: Henry Perenara. Assistant referee: Peter Gough. Sideline officials: Dave Ryan and Kasey Badger. 

Televised: Fox Sports 2 – Live coverage from 4:30pm.

NRL.com predicts: If this had been played on a dry track in Penrith then the Panthers would be morals to kick-start their premiership drive with a comfortable win. But following several days of heavy rain in Sydney, and with more predicted for Saturday, the conditions will favour a Dragons side that will turn to its big men to monster Penrith's craftier crew. But weather can only help so much, and that's why we're tipping the Panthers by 10.