With some pressure heaped on them after a win by the South Sydney Rabbitohs, the Penrith Panthers had to fight hard for their win but they grinded it out, winning 18-14 against a fast finishing St George Illawarra Dragons side.
Although there is still work to be done and elements of their attack that require a more clinical nature, the Panthers are maturing nicely and emerging as genuine premiership contenders.
The Panthers had to do it the hard way, especially when the Dragons had a mountain of possession and a much better completion rate throughout the game.
The win was one that continues the Panthers great momentum over the last five weeks but despite being first on the premiership ladder, coach Ivan Cleary played down their form and highlighted areas they can improve.
â€œWeâ€™ve got a lot to do yet. Weâ€™ve got some very hard games coming up. Weâ€™ve got 11 games consecutively after our bye next week, so thatâ€™s a big tough run. Thereâ€™s much to do,â€ Cleary said.
â€œBut we also feel like weâ€™re making progress as well and tonight was another bit of progress. It wasnâ€™t all perfect by any stretch, we had some pressure on us and we managed to hold them off.â€
With players like Matt Moylan and Bryce Cartwright maturing into solid players and performing when required, as well as experienced campaigners like Jamie Soward and Brent Kite, the season is shaping up well for the Panthers.
For the Dragons, their execution was just lacking when it mattered. Although they produced a fast-finish to keep the Panthers on their toes, they could not make the most of a further opportunity to extend the game.
The pressure is also increased on halfback Benji Marshall, who had another inconsistent game and is set to become the ire of Dragons fans should his form not improve.
As for the game itself, Dragons captain Ben Creagh admits that the Panthers were able to execute better and labels them as genuine title contenders.
â€œDefinitely. Theyâ€™re a quality side. They play disciplined footy, thatâ€™s what youâ€™ve got to do if you want to win premierships,â€ Creagh said.
â€œThey donâ€™t give away too many penalties and they donâ€™t make too many errors either. And they punish teams for giving them away. Theyâ€™re a quality team, theyâ€™re playing as a team and theyâ€™re playing for one another. Theyâ€™re a tough footy side.â€
Despite all that, coach Paul McGregor believes it was the best side the Dragons have played all year despite the loss.
â€œSometime you lose but you win. Half our salary capâ€™s at home sitting on the lounge with rep duties and injuries,â€ McGreggor said.
â€œThatâ€™s the best game weâ€™ve played this year and we had a couple of wins earlier in the year.â€
3. Dean Whare
2. Charly Runciman
1. Jamie Soward