Full Time
5:30pm Sat June 1, 2024
Round 13 - BlueBet Stadium, Penrith / Dharug - Crowd: 12025

Round 13: Panthers v Dragons preview

Cubs become Panthers as the Saints come to Penrith

The premiers will have their depth tested on Saturday evening when the Penrith Panthers host the St George Illawarra Dragons without their representative stars.

Heading into the middle-third of the season with eight wins in the bank and the best defensive record in the league, the Penrith Panthers will be without five players - Dylan Edwards, Brian To'o, Jarome Luai, Liam Martin and Isaah Yeo - selected in the NSW Origin team.

Returning home buoyant after suffocating the Sharks in a near-flawless 42-0 shut out last Saturday, coach Ivan Cleary has named Trent Toelau and Preston Riki on debut, along with Jesse McLean, Brad Schnieder, Mavrik Geyer and Tyrone Peachey in a revamped squad.

The Panthers have performed strongly in the lead up to State of Origin with seven wins from ten matches over the past decade, including an 18-14 win over the Dragons in 2014 featuring Isaah Yeo as a teenage centre.

The St George Illawarra Dragons will be without three representative stars of their own as they strive to record their first win in seven years at the foot of the mountains.

Coming off a second half capitulation during last week's 44-12 loss to Canterbury-Bankstown in the opening match of Indigenous Round, coach Shane Flanagan has made a host of changes with Ben Hunt, Zac Lomax and Jadyn Su'A unavailable.

Sione Finau, Max Feagai, Mat Feagai, Toby Couchman and Ryan Couchman will all make their first appearances of the season, while Jesse Marschke will start at halfback for the first time in the NRL; Moses Suli and Francis Molo will make their 50th appearances for the joint venture.

The Dragons have struggled without their representative stars in recent years, winning four out of 12 matches prior to State of Origin over the past decade.

Last meeting: Round 14 2023 - Panthers 26 Dragons 18

Who to watch: Few clubs have planned as well for the impacts of representative football quite like Penrith. During a time of year where stars of the future gain a taste of the big league, a shrewd recruitment strategy has allowed players like Daine Laurie to keep the reigning premiers in touch with the top four.

Playing limited minutes after rejoining the club from the Wests Tigers, the 24-year-old Indigenous utility will be a major attacking threat at fullback as the Panthers look to maintain an unbeaten home record in 2024.

Only three current players remain from the last Dragons team to experience a victory at Penrith - for Blake Lawrie, that rarity came only five games into his career. Going onto become an established first grader in the years following his 2017 debut, the 27-year-old has played predominantly off the bench under Shane Flanagan with just under 100 running metres on average each week.

Touted as a potential representative player earlier in his career, the Dragons will need Lawrie to stand up if they hope to take advantage of the premiers.

Favourite: The understrength Panthers remain favourites to get the job done after winning the past six clashes against the Dragons in succession.

My tip: With James Fisher-Harris and Moses Leota still on board to lay a platform up front, the Panthers should have enough to overpower a Dragons side that hasn't won without Ben Hunt since 2021 and only three times out of 17 attempts. Panthers by 10.