Panthers steal Dragons' top spot in NRL

They may have thought they were walking under a ladder all year, but now Penrith are on top of it.

The NRL has a new competition leader for the first time this year after the Panthers stunned St George Illawarra with a near-flawless defensive performance in their 28-2 win on Saturday.

The league heavyweights traded punches early in a high-quality opening 40 minutes at a sold-out Panthers Stadium before the home side took over in a comprehensive second half.

Star halves duo Nathan Cleary and James Maloney shone on the back of a forward pack that dominated their highly-rated counterparts in front of their biggest home crowd in eight years.

Panthers coach Anthony Griffin labelled their performance as their most complete in a season where they have had to deal with possibly the worst injury toll in the league.

They are still without starters Dylan Edwards, Josh Mansour, Waqa Blake and captain Peter Wallace.

"I just liked the way our whole team handled the occasion. It was a big game and we'd been building up nicely over the last few weeks," Griffin said.

"Obviously there was a lot of good things in attack and defence in the game but just our energy and our desire to keep coming at that type of game, I thought it was really good."

The victory lifts the Panthers equal with the Dragons on both competition points (18) and points differential (+109); however, they move into top spot on percentages.

They have also now kept their tryline intact for their past 163 minutes of football.

Having only tasted victory against one current top eight side so far this season, the Panthers had identified their clash against the Dragons as a major test of their premiership credentials.

"This win tonight was a real key for us. We set it up and framed it as a big game," Maloney said.

"You don't get too many opportunities to see how you perform in the pressure-cooker of a big-game situation and I think our boys handled it a treat tonight."

Dragons coach Paul McGregor, whose side had led the competition for the opening 11 rounds of the season, said they were simply outclassed in the second half.

"They were very much more dominant, their line speed was good. They were more physical than we were, they dominated field position," he said.

"The halves played over the advantage line, engaged the line well and were just too good on the night."

Australian Associated Press