Panthers-Dragons showdown looms as something special
How good are top-of-the-table clashes? We're lucky enough to have one this weekend when the in-form St George Illawarra travel to the foot of the mountains to take on Penrith.
The Dragons have been the best side in the competition so far this season, having lost just two games. But they'll face their toughest test of the year against the Panthers, who have proven their doubters wrong so far this season.
It shapes as the match of the Telstra Premiership round with a sell-out crowd expected to turn out at Panthers Stadium. When heavyweights face-off, tensions rise, the atmosphere grows and the passion is visible. It's going to be a cracking match.
These teams have made it to first and second on the ladder, but how they've got there has been via completely different paths.
The Dragons have been fortunate to have next to no injuries this season and have capitalised on this.
They've become the dominant team across the competition.
They've had several convincing victories, including their 54-8 thrashing of the Titans and 20-plus point triumphs over Brisbane, Cronulla and Melbourne.
To cap it off, they rank first in wins, points scored, running metres, post-contact metres and tackle breaks, and have conceded the fewest points.
Meanwhile, the Panthers have battled adversity all year to rise to second on the ladder.
Before a ball had been kicked this season, there were multiple reports of drama and off-field conflict following the departures of local juniors Matt Moylan and Bryce Cartwright. Coach Anthony Griffin was also reportedly fighting to keep his job.
They started the season with the trend of going down 14-0 early, before powering home in multiple second-half comebacks.
They've also battled multiple injuries and have been without the likes of Nathan Cleary (knee), Peter Wallace (shoulder), Josh Mansour (cheek), Waqa Blake (ankle), Dylan Edwards (shoulder), Tyrone May (ACL), Tim Browne (bowel), Sam McKendry (ACL), Moses Leota (pec) and Tyrone Phillips (pec) at various stages.
But they've fought through all of this and after 11 weeks, they've lost just three games with their biggest losing margin being just six points.
Not only will the two sides be fighting for two competition points and bragging rights on Saturday night, there will be a dozen players looking to impress State of Origin selectors.
With the sides set to be named on Monday, this weekend's clash is the last chance these players have to impress selectors – making the game even more enticing.
Halfback Ben Hunt looks to have secured his place in the Maroons side, while Euan Aitken, Cameron McInnes, Paul Vaughan, Tyson Frizell, Tariq Sims and Jack de Belin are all looking to win over new Blues coach Brad Fittler.
For the Panthers, five of them will be eager for a call-up. James Maloney and Nathan Cleary are in contention for the halves, while Reagan Campbell-Gillard, Trent Merrin and Tyrone Peachey are also chances to feature for the Blues.
We're not even halfway into the season, but a top-of-the-table clash in Round 11 is the perfect appetiser ahead of Origin I in two weeks.