Both sides were missing a host of Origin stars – essentially evening out the contest, but it was an impressive physical display by Penrith that won out.
The Panthers had sting in their hits all night, driving the Dragons backwards and totally going against all the game stats. By games end, the figures showed less possession to Penrith, more missed tackles and much fewer line breaks.
But the Panthers took every one of their chances and defended with amazing passion throughout the clash.
The much awaited return of Mark Gasnier didn’t quite live up to the hype, with Gaz not getting too much space to do his thing. The former NSW centre had some promising touches, but dropped two crucial balls late in the piece with the St George Illawarra side pushing for a last minute win.
It wasn’t the usually rigid disciplined Dragons tonight, with the Panthers getting in front early and the Saints looking frustrated at being forced to chase for the most part.
Luke Priddis was a hero and villan for his side tonight, up against his old club – Priddis gave away some dumbfounding penalties and chose poor options at times, but made up somewhat with a dummy half run to setup a late try.
For Penrith, with Walsh missing – many felt the organisation and kicking would drop a notch, but nothing could have been further from the truth.
With Burns taking his place after speculation he could be forced out, it was his partnership with Wade Graham that kept the Penrith side looking dangerous in attack but remaining rock solid in defence.
The two little generals hoisting pin point bombs and pulling off some unusually heavy hits in defence, collisions you don’t normally expect from your halves.
Helping keep an undermanned engine room together, veteran Trent Waterhouse worked tirelessly as did lock Nathan Smith who did a good job with Civoniceva and Lewis on Origin duty.
Regardless of the result, both the Dragons and Penrith are assured Top 4 finishes – but the win by the 2nd place side really boosts their credibility and with Jennings and Gordon to come back into the backline – they look super dangerous.