Schick Hydro Preview: Penrith Panthers v St George Illawarra Dragons
A week after making the Raiders' task of reaching the finals more difficult with a stirring four-point win in Canberra, the in-form Penrith Panthers are out to exact a similar revenge on the St George Illawarra Dragons after being embarrassed in the opening game of the season.
St George Illawarra came out firing to thrash Anthony Griffin's men 42-10 in Round 1 – a result that rattled the Panthers' season early and one that has been stored in the memory bank according to the players at the foot of the mountains.
Penrith have all but secured back-to-back finals appearances with seven wins on the trot, while the Dragons' equation is simple with two games remaining: they must win.
The Red V have reportedly had to deal with the flu sweeping through their camp in the last seven days but that excuse is going to account for little if the Dragons fail to make the finals after a blistering start to the season.
The Panthers have been disrupted with injury throughout the season and have lost five-eighth Matt Moylan for at least a fortnight to a fresh hamstring injury, but welcome back Peter Wallace at hooker after a week off with a broken hand.
Tyrone May replaces Moylan in the No.6 jersey and is making a knack of getting over the line with three tries from five games and the 21-year-old is yet to taste defeat in the NRL.
For the Dragons, Euan Aitken has succumbed to an ongoing shoulder issue after falling awkwardly in a tackle during the final minutes of last week's game against the Broncos, with Nene MacDonald returning in the backline.
Why the Panthers can win: They're priding themselves on their second-half performances. Penrith have conceded just nine tries in the final 20 minutes of games all season – a remarkable statistic when you consider the backend of a contest is where fatigue kicks in the most. Melbourne and Cronulla are the next best in that stat with 14 tries apiece so it gives a fair indication of how much the Panthers are containing the opposition with the game on the line and then finding the energy to deliver the killer blow. Penrith have scored 29 tries in the final 20 minutes of games this season – the best of any side in the Telstra Premiership – with Melbourne closely behind them on 27.
 Telstra Premiership: Panthers vs Dragons
Why the Dragons can win: It's no secret the forward pack is the Dragons' biggest strength. Paul McGregor's side leads the Telstra Premiership for metres gained and they manhandled the Panthers back in Round 1. On the back of that yardage they're always creating chances – ranked in the top three in the league for offloads, line breaks and try assists. The downfall? Lapses of concentration and an inability to find the game-breaking play when required. The Dragons come out sluggish after half-time breaks, conceding 15 tries between the 40th and 50th minute of games. With the Panthers on song in second halves, St George Illawarra will need to match their defensive skill on Sunday.
 Telstra Premiership: Reagan Campbell-Gillard vs Paul Vaughan
Hit Ups, All Run Metres, Tackle Breaks, Tackles.
The history: Played 31; Panthers 12; Dragons 19. The Dragons have the edge over the Panthers and have won the last three clashes between the two sides – although all been away from Pepper Stadium. Not since 2014 have these clubs met at the foot of the mountains and the Panthers have tasted victory in the last three clashes at the venue.
What are the odds: Sportsbet punters are treating Penrith like the good thing of the round and 96 per cent of the cash has been splashed on the Panthers to beat the Dragons. Penrith 13+ is holding more money than all of the other winning margins combined. Latest odds at sportsbet.com.au
Match officials: Referee: Gerard Sutton; Assistant referee: Ben Cummins; Touch judges: Brett Suttor and Michael Wise; Review Officials: Ben Galea and Bernard Sutton.
Televised: Channel 9 & Fox League – Live from 4.00pm.
NRL.com predicts: The Dragons' season is officially on the line but the Panthers are flying high and are eyeing a potential top-four finish – something that would have been unbelievable to comprehend after their horror start to the year. We'll tip the home side to make amends for the Round 1 disaster and make it eight-straight – ending St George Illawarra's season. Panthers by eight.