Panthers v Dragons preview

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Penrith Panthers v St George Illawarra Dragons Sunday 6:15pm at BlueBet Stadium, Penrith / Dharug

Fresh off the bye, the Panthers will be looking to build on recent form that has taken them to the top of the NRL ladder while the Dragons will be hoping to prove their win over the Roosters wasn't just a one-off. 

Unfortunately for the Red V, it looks like it may be just that after a disappointing defeat to the Dolphins last week, albeit without skipper Ben Hunt.

Hunt has been named to back up from Wednesday's Origin game though, seeing Jayden Sullivan drop back to the bench.

The Dragons desperately missed Hunt's leadership and direction in attack last Thursday.

For all the promise Sullivan, Talatau Amone and Tyrell Sloan have, all three still lack consistency at the top level and have a tendency to drift in and out of games.

That comes with developing at a young age and the trio have hardly been helped by bouncing in and out of first grade, so patience is certainly needed even if results on the field haven't always come.

In other team news, Jaydn Su'A is back from a knee injury and it is a timely boost given Jack Bird will be rested on Sunday afternoon. 

As for the Panthers, they got to sit back and pocket another two points last week while on the bye and will be gunning for four-straight wins on Sunday.

Penrith has named all of its Origin players to back up, with coach Ivan Cleary opting for the same 17 that took down the Broncos 15-4 in a defensive slog at Suncorp a fortnight ago.

Spencer Leniu (groin), Matt Eisenhuth (shoulder) and centre Izack Tago (pectoral) are listed among the reserves and a chance of playing.

Should all of Penrith's Origin players back up, Tago would replace Tyrone Peachey while Leniu would join the bench in place of Lindsay Smith and Eisenhuth would likely miss out on a spot in the 17 entirely.

The Panthers also have plenty of alternatives if some of their Origin stars are rested, with Jack Cogger an option in the halves while Tom Jenkins provides cover in the outside backs and Luke Garner would be a strong contender to give Liam Martin a rest.

Last meeting: Round 2 2022 - Dragons 16 Panthers 20

Who to watch: Penrith may be without Viliame Kikau this season while Martin has endured an injury-interrupted start to the year but Scott Sorensen continues to prove himself one of the team's most underrated players. Sorensen, who is off-contract at the end of the year, has already cemented a spot in the 17 due to his high workrate and physicality in defence. But the versatile forward has also proven himself a dynamic attacking option on the edge, most notably running pinpoint lines in the 48-4 thrashing of the Roosters as he scored two tries. The Panthers will need an unsung hero like Sorensen to continue to produce, particularly in the Origin period.

If Stephen Crichton and Brian To'o both fail to back up and Tago remains sidelined through injury, Penrith's backline will be seriously depleted. That is where someone like Zac Lomax could prove a difference maker for a Dragons team that otherwise lacks much game-breaking potential. It can be hit and miss with Lomax at times, hence why the centre found himself in reserve grade earlier this year. Lomax is contracted until the end of the 2026 season but at this rate he may be a candidate to be moved on early should it free up cash for the Dragons to spend elsewhere as they look to rebuild their roster. Against a potentially weakened Panthers edge defence though, Lomax could have an opportunity to further cement his spot back in the team and provide more in attack so as to ease the pressure on Ben Hunt to create.

Favourite: With Penrith's Origin contingent named to back up, the defending premiers are heavily backed to take the win.

My tip: Penrith has won five in a row against the Dragons and even if its Origin stars rest, this still should be a win for the home side. How many the Panthers win by will depend on how many players back up. If we took a stab, we'd say Nathan Cleary, Liam Martin and Brian To'o are the most likely to be rested - but going off Tuesday's team list it is a big Penrith win. Panthers by 24.

1. Dylan Edwards 2. Sunia Turuva 23. Izack Tago 4. Stephen Crichton 5. Brian To'o 6. Jarome Luai 7. Nathan Cleary 8. Moses Leota 9. Mitch Kenny 10. James Fisher-Harris 11. Scott Sorensen 12. Zac Hosking 13. Isaah Yeo 15. Lindsay Smith 16. Liam Martin 18. Jack Cogger 24. Spencer Leniu 3. Tyrone Peachey

1. Tyrell Sloan 2. Mathew Feagai 3. Moses Suli 4. Zac Lomax 5. Mikaele Ravalawa 14. Jayden Sullivan 7. Ben Hunt 8. Francis Molo 9. Jacob Liddle 10. Michael Molo 11. Billy Burns 12. Jaydn Su'A 13. Jack de Belin 15. Ben Murdoch-Masila 16. Jaiyden Hunt 17. Josh Kerr 17. Moses Mbye 18. Toby Couchman

Referees: Chris Sutton; Sideline Officials: Wyatt Raymond, Phil Henderson; Video Referees: Chris Butler;

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