80:00
Sat 4 March 2017
UOW Jubilee Oval - Crowd: 7283

Dazzling Dragons pummel pathetic Panthers

It appeared a complete mismatch as one of the premiership favourites battled a team tipped to claim the Wooden Spoon - many were tipping a comprehensive victory and they were correct. But it was the Dragons who would stun the Panthers with Gareth Widdop starring in a 42-10 win.

The home side dominated the open twenty minutes with Joel Thompson crashing over in the 4th minute for a very soft try to open proceedings. The Dragons continued to win the battle up front, and it was proving a significant advantage, gifting them considerable field possession made even greater by an ill-disciplined Penrith outfit.

However, for the Panthers, they looked like they had somehow survived the onslaught when momentum turned as a Moylan line break down the sideline nearly resulted in a spectacular try in the 17th minute.

As would become a concerning trend all match, they squandered another set in opposition territory and it would be Thompson grabbing his second in the 23rd minute for the Dragons.

Just when it seemed as if the Saints were marching to an unlikely half time lead the Panthers would strike in impressive fashion. Te Maire Martin - who was one of the few Penrith players who could be proud of their performance, set up a diving Waqa Blake in the corner to put Penrith within eight. Building momentum, however, was made incredibly difficult as Moses Leota dropped the ball and unfortunately, Penrith's flimsy defence would not be up to the task. This time Jack de Belin barged through four defenders to score in the 38th minute and seriously embarrass the away side as they headed into the sheds trailing 18-4. 

The second half opened more fortunately for the Panthers with a bit of luck off the last tackle seeing them claim a repeat set. Yet they failed to capitalise and in a devastating blow Widdop would collect a sweeping kick to score next to the posts and extend his side's lead in the 45th minute.

Only a few minutes later however, another great tip on from Martin would see Peachey slide over in the corner with Nathan Cleary reducing the deficit to fourteen. It appeared as if the momentum had shifted as Cleary would go close, only to drop the ball centimetres before the line. Sent up to the Bunker, it was deemed a knee from Josh McCrone would gift the away side another set from a penalty- which frustratingly amounted to nothing with James Fisher-Harris fumbling the ball on the second tackle.

Shortly after Josh Dugan ended Penrith's hopes of a comeback. A grubber from the St George Illawarra fullback in the 54th minute would be picked up by Widdop, who found Cameron McInnes in support and suddenly the side dubbed as premiership contenders were looking more like favourites for the Wooden Spoon. Despite his sparks of brilliance, Martin made an awful mistake in the 57th minute with a low pass missing the target and instead ending up in the arms of Widdop who would cross the line to claim a double.

In the following ten minutes there would be a total of five errors before the crowd was suddenly reinvigorated by a perfect pass from Widdop which set up Thompson for his third. It seemed as if fifty was now a possibility, yet there would be no more points with a series of errors closing out what was the home side's biggest ever win over Penrith.

For a side who came into 2017 with the second worst attack in the league, it was a dramatic improvement for the Dragons, who outscored the Panthers with 6 line breaks to 2 and crossed for 7 tries, a feat that they probably would not have even equaled in one month of football previously.

Equally impressive, albeit rarely challenged, was their defence, with the Dragons only missing 14 tackles. Conversely, the Panthers have one awkward video review session to come. With a whopping 50 missed tackles and 14 errors, Penrith did all the simple things wrong and denied themselves any shot of winning this one.

For the Dragons, they host Parramatta next Sunday night in Wollongong, while Penrith face a confident Wests Tigers outfit for a Sunday afternoon derby at Campbelltown. 

3. Gareth Widdop

Widdop faced harsh critics heading into the 2017 season, yet his performance today was one of his best. The Dragons halfback was sensational in attack, scoring two tries, setting up two and making a line break too. He took full advantage of Penrith's ill-disciplined defence.

2. Jack de Belin

Jack de Belin was punishing today. In fact, their whole forward pack was enormous, making it even harder to pick who was the best. However, de Belin was constantly breaking through the line, running for 142 metres, scoring a try and making 36 tackles whilst missing 0 despite the wet weather.

1. Joel Thompson

As I said, this could have easily gone to anyone in the Dragons team, it was a great performance all round. But, Thompson was massive with 3 tries. He also made 3 line breaks and 26 tackles, with, yet again 0 missed tackles.