Records tumble as Dragons stun Panthers
The Dragons have stunned pre-season premiership fancies Penrith with a record-breaking 42-10 victory at UOW Jubilee Oval on Saturday afternoon.
The 7,283 fans who turned up in testing conditions to cheer on their team were treated to some spectacular footy that defied Sydney's recent weather, with the Dragons bettering their season-high tally of 32 points in 2016 with ease in what was their biggest ever win over the Panthers.
Tipped by many to struggle in 2017, the home side were a cut above with Joel Thompson turning back the clock with his first career hat-trick, while skipper Gareth Widdop produced arguably his finest performance in the red and white.
New recruits Paul Vaughan and Cameron McInnes also both played starring roles on a day when nothing went right for the Panthers.
Any concerns over the Dragons' ability to score points were dispelled inside the opening five minutes when Thompson crashed over off a McInnes short ball close to the line to give the Red V an early six-point lead.
The razzle-dazzle continued from the next set as some slick midfield offloads put the hosts straight back onto the attack, only for halfback Josh McCrone to lose the ball 20 metres out from the line.
Penrith tried to work their way back into contest but time and time again were either thwarted by the Dragons' defence or came up with the wrong option in attack.
Their inability to convert those opportunities came back to haunt them when Thompson stormed onto a Gareth Widdop ball to score an almost identical try to his earlier effort.
The visitors needed something special to spark them before the break, and turned to the in-form Waqa Blake for inspiration; the centre diving over Superman style to finish off a lovely bit of play by Te Maire Martin on the last tackle.
But their joy didn't last long as NRL Fantasy superstar Jack de Belin fended away from several would-be defenders to power his way over to give his side a deserved 18-4 half-time lead.
Any thoughts of a second-half slowdown were put to bed after five minutes when Widdop swooped onto halves partner Josh McCrone's pinpoint infield kick to send the crowd into raptures.
The Panthers were given a glimmer of hope with 30 minutes to go when Tyrone Peachey justified his continued selection in the three-quarter line to dive over in the left corner after a brilliant tip on by Martin in the build-up.
They were almost in again moments later when halfback Nathan Cleary sliced through, but the Panthers No.7 lost the ball in the process of scoring, with replays indicating the ball was forced free by McCrone's boot.
It would prove to be telling as McInnes finished off some scintillating work from Josh Dugan who made something out of nothing with a grubber for himself to make it 30-10.
The Red V faithful were treated to more fireworks when Jason Nightingale scooped up a loose ball and offloaded to Widdop who dummied past the defence to stroll over for his second on the hour mark.
There was still time for one more highlight when Widdop sliced through to put Thompson over for his third, with the Englishman's conversion tying Amos Roberts and Jamie Soward's club-record haul of 22 points in a game.
Dragons 42 (Joel Thompson 3, Gareth Widdop 2, Jack de Belin, Cameron McInnes tries; Gareth Widdop 7 goals) def. Panthers 10 (Waqa Blake, Tyrone Peachey tries; Nathan Cleary 1 goal) at UOW Jubilee Oval. Half-time: 18-4 Crowd: 7,283.