Panthers v Dragons: Hosts unchanged; Latimore's 150th

Panthers v Dragons: Hosts unchanged; Latimore's 150th

Not that they are underrated, but the Panthers are emerging as the NRL's quiet achievers in 2018 under coach Anthony Griffin.

Guiding his team to eight wins from their first 11 games has Griffin right alongside Paul McGregor, Ivan Cleary and Stephen Kearney as the early frontrunners for Coach of the Year. He had to deal with the injury-enforced absence of his best player in addition to the loss of other key players at different stages through injury.

The steady influence of seasoned campaigner James Maloney can't be measured, while others like Tyrone Peachey, Trent Merrin and Reagan Campbell-Gillard have also stepped up. This weekend the Panthers face arguably their toughest test of the season.

After losing to the Rabbitohs in round 10, the Dragons bounced back with last week's narrow win over the Raiders to remain alone in first place with a 9-2 record.

This Saturday night top of the table battle at Panthers Stadium could go all the down to the wire.

Key match-up: Based on the theory that the forwards will probably cancel each other out, it's highly likely the outcome of this 1 v 2 showdown will be determined by the opposing halves. There's every chance halfbacks Nathan Cleary and Ben Hunt will line up against each other in the Origin series, while James Maloney and Gareth Widdop will also get plenty of touches. This game is shaping as one of the most anticipated clashes of the season and the halves battle will be critical.

Match: Panthers vs Dragons

Round 12 -

Full Time
Panthers

Home Team

Panthers

Scored 28 points
Dragons

Away Team

Dragons

Scored 2 points

Venue: Panthers Stadium

Match broadcasters:

  • Fox League
  • LIVE PASS

For the Panthers to win: After getting away to slow starts almost every week, the Panthers were on their game from the get-go in last week's home win over the Tigers. If they get away to a flyer again on Saturday it will put the onus on the Dragons to keep their cool in a hostile environment.

For the Dragons to win: A less than convincing win over Canberra but a win all the same. They aren't playing the Raiders this week and the Dragons will have to improve on last week's performance against an in-form Panthers. They need to stay alert defensively after being caught napping by the Raiders' quick taps.

Panthers stat attack: The Panthers have won 11 of their past 12 games at Panthers Stadium, while key off-season recruit James Maloney has never lost in 11 games at Panthers Stadium.

Dragons stat attack: Of their past four meetings with the Panthers, the Dragons have won all four. Journeyman forward Jeremy Latimore will play his 150th NRL game on Saturday.

And another thing: Such is the interest in this top of the table stoush that tickets had apparently all sold out by Tuesday morning. That's great news for the Panthers and it should also ensure plenty of armchair fans are glued to the telly on Saturday night. We're only in May but the Panthers want top spot and the Dragons won't want to give it up.

Penrith Panthers v St George Illawarra Dragons, 7.35pm Saturday at Panthers Stadium

Panthers: 1 Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, 2 Christian Crichton, 3 Tyrone Peachey, 4 Dean Whare, 5 Tyrone Phillips, 6 James Maloney (c), 7 Nathan Cleary, 8 Trent Merrin, 9 Sione Katoa, 10 Reagan Campbell-Gillard, 11 Corey Harawira-Naera, 12 Isaah Yeo, 13 James Fisher-Harris

Interchange: 14 Wayde Egan, 15 Jack Hetherington, 16 Viliame Kikau, 17 James Tamou

The Penrith Panthers will run out 1-17 as named on Tuesday. Jarome Luai, Kaide Ellis, Tyrone May and Thomas Eisenhuth dropped off the extended bench.

Penrith Panthers v St George Illawarra Dragons, Saturday 7.35pm at Panthers Stadium 

Panthers: 1 Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, 2 Christian Crichton, 3 Tyrone Peachey, 4 Dean Whare, 5 Tyrone Phillips, 6 James Maloney (c), 7 Nathan Cleary, 8 Trent Merrin, 9 Sione Katoa, 10 Reagan Campbell-Gillard, 11 Corey Harawira-Naera, 12 Isaah Yeo, 13 James Fisher-Harris

Interchange: 14 Wayde Egan, 15 Jack Hetherington, 16 Viliame Kikau, 17 James Tamou

The Penrith Panthers will run out 1-17 as named on Tuesday. Jarome Luai, Kaide Ellis, Tyrone May and Thomas Eisenhuth dropped off the extended bench.

Dragons: 1 Matt Dufty, 2 Nene Macdonald, 3 Euan Aitken, 4 Tim Lafai, 5 Jason Nightingale, 6 Gareth Widdop (c), 7 Ben Hunt, 8 James Graham, 9 Cameron McInnes, 10 Paul Vaughan, 11 Tyson Frizell, 12 Tariq Sims, 13 Jack De Belin

Interchange: 14 Jeremy Latimore, 15 Kurt Mann, 16 Leeson Ah Mau, 17 Blake Lawrie

The Dragons are also unchanged 17 after last week's win over Canberra. Reece Robson, Reuben Garrick, Luciano Leilua and Hame Sele were omitted from the initial 21-man squad.

Head-to-head: Played 32; Dragons 20 wins, Panthers 12 wins
Matches at venue: Played 15; Panthers 8 wins, Dragons 7 wins
2017 results: Dragons won 42-10 at Jubilee Oval in round 1; Dragons won 16-14 at Panthers Stadium in round 25
Points per game: Panthers 22.6; Dragons 27.2
Points conceded per game: Panthers 15.1; Dragons 14.9
Televised: Live on Fox League

Steve Turner's prediction: The game of the round! Penrith are a genuine title contender and the Dragons returned to the winner's circle with a tough win against the Raiders. Nathan Cleary adds so much class to the Panthers, their forward pack is impressive and Tyrone Peachey adds the x-factor.

Meanwhile, the Dragons forward pack is a big reason why they sit on top of the ladder. Throw in classy halves and a brilliant number one, it's hard to split these two sides. The best defensive teams going to head to head on the eve of State of Origin selection.

Tip: Panthers by 4