NRL Preview: Round 1 v Penrith Panthers
St George Illawarra Dragons v Penrith Panthers
UOW Jubilee Oval, Kogarah
The St George Illawarra Dragons and the Penrith Panthers will start their respective seasons at UOW Jubilee Oval, Kogarah on Saturday, March 4.
With the Panthers widely tipped as a premiership heavyweight, the Dragons' Round 1 clash will prove a good test for coach Paul McGregor's team.
All three of the Dragons' major recruits in Paul Vaughan, Nene Macdonald and Cameron McInnes will make their club debuts on Saturday afternoon.
They will be joined by potential NRL debutants and local juniors Jai Field and Hame Sele, while Josh McCrone was rewarded with the No. 7 jumper following a tough pre-season.
While the Panthers will be missing first-choice wingers Josh Mansour and Dallin Watene-Zelezniak due to knee injuries, they will be boosted by the returns of Peta Hiku and Dean Whare who both suffered season-ending ACL injuries in 2016.
James Tamou and Tim Browne will make their Panthers debuts against the Dragons in what's anticipated to be a brutal battle up front.
Dragons: 1. Josh Dugan, 2. Nene Macdonald, 3. Euan Aitken, 4. Tim Lafai, 5. Jason Nightingale, 6. Gareth Widdop (c), 7. Josh McCrone, 8. Russell Packer, 9. Cameron McInnes, 10. Paul Vaughan, 11. Tyson Frizell, 12. Joel Thompson, 13. Jack de Belin. Interchange: 14. Tariq Sims, 15. Leeson Ah Mau, 16. Jacob Host, 17. Jai Field, 18. Kurt Mann, 19. Taane Milne, 20. Jake Marketo, 21. Hame Sele.
Panthers: 1. Matt Moylan, 2. Dean Whare, 3. Waqa Blake, 4. Tyrone Peachey, 5. Peta Hiku, 6. Te Maire Martin, 7. Nathan Cleary, 8. James Tamou, 9. Peter Wallace, 10. Reagan Campbell-Gillard, 11. Bryce Cartwright, 12. Isaah Yeo, 13. Trent Merrin. Interchange: 14. James Fisher-Harris, 15. Leilani Latu, 16. Tim Browne, 17. Moses Leota, 18. Sitaleki Akauola, 19. Dylan Edwards, 20. Mitch Rein, 21. Sione Katoa.
Key Match-Up: Josh Dugan v Matt Moylan – After a successful Four Nations campaign in the centres, Dugan returns to the NRL in 2017wearing the No. 1 jumper. While Dugan overshadowed Panthers captain Matt Moylan in terms of running games last year, Moylan's prowess in assisting tries makes for an intriguing battle. Dugan showed his intent to pass the ball more by setting up winger Nene Macdonald at the Charity Shield, though Moylan is a proven playmaker considering his 21 try assists in 2016.
The History: Played 30; Dragons 18, Panthers 12. The Dragons not only hold the overall ledger over the Panthers, but have a big advantage over them in games at UOW Jubilee Oval. In 28 appearances since their inception, Penrith have won at Kogarah just four times. The mountain men have won their past two games in Kogarah however (back in 2010 and 2013).
Match Officials: Referee: Henry Perenara. Assistant Referee: Peter Gough. Sideline Officials: Dave Ryan and Kasey Badger.
Televised: Fox League – Live coverage from 4pm
Radio: ABC, Triple M and 2GB