Premiership contenders Penrith head to Kogarah to play the Dragons where they hope it is the first step towards a long finals run in 2017.
The Panthers were one of the stories of 2016 after sacking Jamie Soward and promoting raw halfback Nathan Cleary to a starting spot. The move paid huge dividends with Penrith not only securing a spot in the top eight but getting through to Week 2.
Blessed with a talented roster, many are predicting they will be one of the teams to beat at the back end of the season.
The Dragons, on the hand, are given little hope of playing finals after failing to recruit anyone of real significance to help their spluttering attack get better.
POINTS A PROBLEM
STGEORGE ILL were terrible last season and even they will admit they played below the standard expected of first graders.
Attack was a huge problem despite having Gareth Widdop and Benji Marshall in the halves, only the lowly Knights had scored less points than the Dragons.
Coach Paul Macgregor has a big headache here because Marshall is gone and the first choice to replace him, Drew Hutchinson, is out for the season so in steps veteran Josh McCrone to partner Widdop. Is this the solution the Dragons have been waiting for?
PENRITH have a fantastic roster and the addition of former Cowboys forward James Tamou is a huge bonus for an already formidable forward pack.
Couple his experience at Test and Origin level, and the fact he is a premiership winner with the Cowboys, along with the youthful exuberance of Matt Moylan, Josh Mansour, Bryce Cartwright and you have a serious outfit.
The Panthers have had a solid pre-season also and made the final of the Auckland Nines before falling to the Roosters at the final hurdle.
Stgeorge Ill are aiming for three straight wins against the Panthers since 2009.
Points have actually been hard to come by for both teams in this fixture in recent years with each team managing to score over three tries just once in the past eight meetings.
While the Dragons have been very hard to topple at Kogarah in recent seasons it seems as though the Panthers are one side that enjoys playing there, having beaten them in their past two fixtures at the venue.
The Dragons represent some value in the head-to-head and it will be interesting how new hooker Cameron McInnes dictates play from the ruck. He, along with new recruits Paul Vaughn and Nene Macdonald, will be eager to make a good first impression in the Red V.
Stgeorge aren’t without a chance because they do boast international and Origin players such as Josh Dugan and Tyson Frizell while you can expect Widdop to lift off the poor season he had last year. Boom rookie Luciano Leilua, who debuted in the back half of the season, is also a starter so there is some promise there.
Promise alone won’t get the job done if the Dragons can’t execute properly and that was their major problem last season. Penrith look a far more polished outfit at this stage of the season and this is a team that many expect will be playing finals football.
Taking that into consideration they will need to improve their away form from last season which was 6-6 and with the Dragons winning eight and losing four at home, it could be a closer contest than we think. Penrith 1-12 anyone? It’s paying $3.10 with Sportsbet.
MATCH WINNER TIP: PENRITH PANTHERS
FIRST TRYSCORER: NENE MACDONALD
MARGIN BETTING: PANTHERS 1-12
OTHER TIP: TOTAL MATCH POINTS 31-40