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By Stewart Moses

In Round Two, the Panthers handed the Dragons a 52-6 hiding, but fast forward to Round 13, and a very different looking Panthers side turned in a gritty performance in a see-sawing contest that saw the lead change hands several times before a vastly more experienced Dragons outfit managed to secure a late 26-22 win at BlueBet Stadium.

With the Panthers NRL side missing six players to Origin, it was going to be a tough ask for a side missing Charlie Staines, Robert Jennings, Kurt Falls, Sean O’Sullivan, Chris Smith, Matt Eisenhuth plus Eddie Blacker (HIA protocols).

Penrith opened the scoring early on with an individual show and go try from Soni Luke from close range and with the conversion from halfback Niwahi Puru, the home side led 6-0 after six minutes.

An error soon after the kick-off enabled the Dragons to hit back almost immediately, with a short pass close to the line from five-eighth Mitch Francis putting backrower Jack Gosiewski over out wide.

Penrith soon restored their six-point advantage with a scrappy try to five-eighth Jack Cole who repeated Soni Luke’s grubber kick effort to ground the ball first in the 15th minute.

Winger Treigh Stewart followed suit in the 23rd minute, trailing a Billy Burns line-break from 25m out to put the Dragons within two points once more.

The Dragons finally took the lead after a break by Sullivan saw fullback Tyrell Sloan backing up to score next to the posts, giving the Dragons a 14-10 lead at half-time.

Early second half back-to-back penalties to the Dragons proved telling as the away side extended their lead to the biggest of the match to date 20-10, after hooker Connor Muhleisen came up with a show and go effort of his own to score from close range.

Penrith stemmed the flow of points with a try of their own through interchange player Isaiah Iongi in the 50th minute, who capitalised on a gap from dummy half. After a successful conversion by Puru, the understrength Panthers trailed by just four again.

Penrith soon regained the lead after a smart pass from Soni Luke, who was instrumental all game, sent Preston Riki crashing over with 16 minutes remaining. 

When the Dragons received a fortuitous six-again, they didn’t need much of an invitation to seal the result when Burns strolled through a gap and found ex-Panther Ethan Clark-Wood, who crashed over securing a 26-22 victory.

Talking points

Tonight’s loss could mean the Panthers, who have led the competition for much of the season, could relinquish that spot to Newtown should they defeat the Raiders this Sunday.

The Dragons’ late win completes a stunning reversal in form from their Round Two 52-6 defeat at the same venue. They currently sit in the top eight for now, pending other results over the weekend.

Key moment

Six minutes before full-time, Penrith looked to have gained an enormous opportunity to seal the two points from a kick-error, but the decision by young back-rower Mavrik Geyer to make a second effort to reach out and score proved telling.

It resulted in a momentum shift from the ensuing penalty where possession flowed firmly in favour of the Dragons who were able to execute when it mattered most.

What's next?

The Panthers now face a long away trip to Belconnen next Saturday to take on the Canberra Raiders while on the same day, the Dragons host the Rabbitohs at Collegians Sporting Complex in Wollongong.

Acknowledgement of Country

St George Illawarra Dragons respect and honour the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders peoples, where our games are played, our programs are conducted and in the communities we support.

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