The Dragons have it all to do coming off a dispiriting round one loss as they prepare to welcome a Panthers side on a high after their impressive win over the defending premiers.
St George Illawarra fell 24-14 to Wests Tigers, bombing numerous try-scoring opportunities in the process, while Penrith fought back from 12-0 down to claim a 20-14 victory over the Roosters.
Recent history won't give the Dragons much confidence either with the Panthers inflicting heavy defeats on them in their past two clashes, 40-18 last season and 28-2 in 2018.
Dragons: Matt Dufty is back from the cheekbone injury he suffered at the Nines and he takes over at fullback with Zac Lomax shifting to the wing to replace the injured Mikaele Ravalawa (thigh). Tariq Sims' one-game suspension for a shoulder charge means Tyrell Fuimaono comes into the starting side and Jacob Host joins the bench. Korbin Sims (arm) is hoping to be back in round five while captain Cameron McInnes (knee) is looking at round eight. Euan Aitken and Jackson Ford were the last players trimmed from the reserves, while Adam Clune and Tristan Sailor were omitted 24 hours before kick-off.
Panthers: Viliame Kikau returns to the starting side after his destructive 40-minute cameo off the bench in round one. Liam Martin reverts to the bench. Jack Hetherington's suspension for a high tackle opens the door for Billy Burns to come into the 17. Zane Tetevano lasted just 20 minutes against the Roosters before injuring his knee but he has been named to play. Dylan Edwards is making encouraging progress in his rehab of a syndesmosis tear and could be back ahead of schedule in round three but Kurt Capewell suffered a recurrence of a quad strain. Matt Burton and Mitch Kenny were trimmed from the reserves an hour before kick-off, while Jed Cartwright and Kaide Ellis dropped off the extended bench on Thursday night.
Ben Hunt v Nathan Cleary: The perennially under-pressure Hunt has accepted the blame for the Dragons' disappointing loss to Wests Tigers, berating himself for failing to control proceedings because of a "terrible" kicking game. Cleary, in contrast, was a central figure in Penrith's fighting win over the Sydney Roosters, delivering the pass for Viliame Kikau's match-winning try and kicking a perfect four-from-four from the tee.
Where it'll be won and lost
Shrugging off setbacks and taking opportunities when they present themselves could again prove the difference this weekend. Penrith overcame a horrible start to first keep themselves in the contest as the Roosters threatened to knock up a cricket score then, when they found their feet, ran home over the top of the defending premiers. St George Illawarra, on the other hand, failed to put Wests Tigers to the sword when they had the chance and duly paid the penalty.
Brett Kimmorley says
Penrith were great in the second half against the Roosters. The Api Koroisau-Nathan Cleary combination clicked into gear straight away. How quickly it all came together for Penrith surprised me, while I thought the Dragons weren't at their best in round one. I'll tip Koroisau and Cleary to inspire another victory. Panthers by 8.
Last Time They Met: Panthers v Dragons - Round 18, 2019
The Panthers ran riot in the second half to thrash the Dragons in their only meeting last season. After leading 16-12 at half-time, Penrith went to another level after the break to win 40-18, with Brent Naden and Brian To'o each scoring two tries.
And another thing…
Before last year's stint with Leeds Rhinos Trent Merrin had played 205 matches across seven NRL seasons with the Dragons (2009-2015) and three for the Panthers (2016-18). He's been nothing if not consistent – at the Dragons he averaged 127 metres per game and won 54% of his matches; at the Panthers he averaged 127 metres per game and won 55% of his matches.