Penrith coach Anthony Griffin believes it’s unfair to compare his Panthers to table-topping St George Illawarra because of the Dragons’ perfect health so far this NRL season.
Griffin’s side will aim to knock St George Illawarra off top spot for the first time this year when first visits second in a mouth-watering clash at Panthers Stadium on Saturday.
The Dragons have been declared this year’s benchmark by a handful of rival teams after winning nine of their opening 11 matches, six of which have been against teams currently inside the top eight.
Griffin pinpointed much of St George Illawarra’s success to a near perfect bill of health, with counterpart Paul McGregor extraordinarily fielding the same starting line-up for every game so far this year.
“I think they are the team to beat. Apart from the game against Souths a couple of weeks ago, they’ve been very consistent, and they’ve beaten a lot of good teams along the way,” Griffin said.
“Key to that is they’ve been very stable. I think they’ve only used 19 or 20 players. You get that type of rhythm, you can build a lot of confidence and combinations.”
The Dragons have actually used a total 22 players compared to the Panthers’ 25, however only once this year has Griffin entered consecutive games with the same starting unit.
Saturday’s clash will be the second time.
While the Dragons have yet to suffer a serious injury so far, the Panthers have had to deal with the long-term unavailability of Dylan Edwards, Josh Mansour, Waqa Blake and Dallin Watene-Zelezniak.
Halfback Nathan Cleary has also just returned from an eight-week layoff with a knee issue.
“It’s a credit to them that they’ve been able to keep the same side on the park too and they’ve built a lot of momentum through that,” Griffin said.
“You can’t really compare the two, but they’re on top of the ladder because they’re playing really good football. They’ve got a great list and been very consistent.”
But as Griffin points out his team’s ability to overcome adversity, McGregor also spoke proudly of their effort to rise to the top by going through the remaining six teams in the top eight.
Their two losses have come against top-four South Sydney and the Warriors.
“Nine of the 11 games we’ve played have been against teams that are in the top eight. So every week is a challenge and this is the hardest one so far – a team coming second,” McGregor said.
“We’re hardened due to the fact we’ve been playing good teams on a weekly basis.”