By Nathan Beuman
The St George Illawarra Dragons will aim to regain momentum when they host the Penrith Panthers at WIN Stadium, Wollongong on Sunday.
While much of the talk this week has been around Jamie Soward’s return to Wollongong, Dragons Head Coach Paul McGregor certainly won’t allow his troops to get sidetracked from the task at hand.
Coming off a 30-22 loss to the Sydney Roosters last Saturday night, St George Illawarra will need a win against the Panthers if they want to keep their dream of playing in the September alive.
Despite a two game losing streak and a mounting injury toll, Penrith managed to knock off an out of form Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs side 22-16 at ANZ Stadium, Olympic Park last Friday.
While a win could see the Panthers jump up to second place on the competition table, a loss could have them slide down as far as sixth position, making it a very important match for both sides.
After yet another horror week, with injuries to Elijah Taylor (ACL), Brent Kite (pectoral) and Bryce Cartwright (ankle), Penrith Panthers Head Coach Ivan Cleary has been forced to promote Sam McKendry and Isaah Yeo into his sides run on squad.
Penrith have also named an extended six-man bench, with Kevin Kingston, Matt Robinson, Tim Grant and Ryan Simpkins all additions to the team that took the park last week against the Bulldogs.
Quite the contrary, the Dragons have named almost an identical lineup, with the only changes being the inclusion of Dan Hunt and Bronson Harrison to a six-man bench.
Despite two losses in the space of seven days, Penrith bounced back last Friday night to defeat the Bulldogs, much to the surprise of many “experts”.
The previous high scoring offence was restricted to just 12 (vs. Roosters) and 16 (vs. Cronulla) points in their two losses, before bouncing back to put 22 points on one of the best defence teams in the competition.
The Dragons are due for a victory if recent form is anything to go by, with the hosts going win, loss, win, loss over the last four weeks.
With a five win, four loss record under new head coach Paul McGregor, St George Illawarra are still well within reach of a spot in the top eight, however, a loss this Sunday would certainly make the task a lot tougher.
While Penrith may have won the last four matches between the two clubs, the Dragons hold a far superior record overall, claiming the points of 16 of the 27 occasions the two clubs have met since 1999.
The mountain men’s struggles are even more pronounced in Wollongong, with the Panthers only managing one win from six trips down Mount Ousley.