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Panthers centre Brent Naden.

Pre-season fancies Penrith found themselves languishing as low as 16th on the Telstra Premiership ladder through an ordinary opening 10 rounds but seven straight wins have lifted them into the finals zone – with some of their stats completely reversing in that period.

Those who still question Penrith's premiership credentials point out most if not all of those seven wins have come against teams that were under strength, having a particularly off night, at the bottom of the ladder or some combination thereof.

While there is some truth to that, you can only play what's in front of you and in terms of that old coach's edict – controlling the things you can control – Penrith have turned a serious corner no matter how you look at it.

There are many factors. Halves Nathan Cleary and James Maloney started to find form separately in games where the other was missing before starting to put it together as a combination in recent weeks.

An injection of young blood has paid huge dividends with the likes of Brian To'o, Brent Naden and Mitch Kenny going from strength to strength since being thrust into first grade.

Match Highlights: Panthers v Dragons

There is a bit of chicken-and-egg about their statistical improvement too when comparing rounds 1-10 against 11-18. Stats has revealed improvement in almost all major categories so it's hard to know whether controlling more ball has fed into improved attack and reduced pressure on their defence, or whether it starts with better defensive energy that prevents opponents dictating terms and giving them more juice for their attack or a combination of everything.

They have gone from the second-worst defensive team to equal best and the worst attacking team to seventh-best. Their average run metres have jumped more than 200 metres per game.

They have tidied up their errors from worst in the comp to mid-table and their kick defusal rate similarly has gone from worst in the NRL to mid-table.

Some areas have not improved; they were the most-penalised team through 10 rounds but remained the second-most penalised in the period of their winning run, and the average number of penalties conceded per game has actually crept up.

Their defensive improvement is not down to missing fewer tackles either; they averaged the most missed tackles per game through 10 rounds but were still second-worst while on their winning run, improving by just over one miss per game.

Interestingly their number of line drop-outs forced has plummeted from more than three per game and most in the NRL to just over one per game and just sixth most.

This stat appears to show almost no correlation with win rate – Souths and Melbourne are in the top four for drop-outs forced along with Wests Tigers while the Roosters have the fewest, just behind Canterbury.

Whether Ivan Cleary's men can carry this improved discipline through the rest of the season will soon become clear but if the confident Panthers can get over the top of fourth-placed Canberra at home this weekend they have another three games against bottom-eight sides before running into the Roosters in round 24.

They have a golden opportunity to shore up their current top-eight status and surge into September, potentially as high as an unlikely run into fourth spot if other results go their way.

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National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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