Paul McGregor has made a stunning selection gamble with his team's season on the line, the St George Illawarra coach opting to 'rest' star halfback Ben Hunt for Friday night's clash against the Panthers.
With Hunt completely omitted from the Dragons 21-man squad, Darren Nicholls will line up in the no. 7 jersey when the Dragons travel to Penrith.
The selection gamble came as St George Illawarra forward Tariq Sims backed McGregor to lead the team out of their current form slump.
The Dragons season is on life support after their tepid defeat to the Raiders at WIN Stadium on Sunday night, with the team now required to win at least six of their last eight to play finals football.
Criticism of McGregor was swift and fierce in the aftermath of Sunday's defeat, with many fans calling for the coach's sacking.
Sims, however, backed the mentor to turn the ship around and lead a talented roster on a lengthy winning run.
"Our fans are very, very vocal and we love them more than anything, that's what keeps the club going," Sims said.
"But I think it's pretty harsh for them calling for Mary, because at the end of the day, he's just orchestrating us, he's not the one out there missing tackles and dropping balls. We need to do it for our fans, ourselves and our coach as well."
Hunt's omission marks a stark contrast to McGregor's comments on Friday, with the coach expressing how excited the halfback was to rebound from Origin disappointment to lead the Dragons back to the finals.
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Hunt was not the only change to the Dragons team for this weekend, with McGregor wielding the axe following Sunday's poor performance.
Jacob Host and Reece Robson have been dropped from the interchange to the reserves, while Jeremy Latimore was unavailable after suffering a knee injury on Sunday night.
James Graham returns to the lineup at lock, with Blake Lawrie moving to prop, and Josh Kerr and Patrick Kaufusi have been elevated to the bench.
McGregor's selections came after a brutal video review session on Tuesday morning exposed a number of poor performances. Sims, however, is confident that grim viewing has the team ready to deliver a much-improved performance at Penrith Stadium.
That will not be an easy task, however, with the Panthers having won six in a row to move inside the top eight.
Sims' Origin teammate James Maloney is on a particularly hot streak, the five-eighth winning his last eight matches. The Panthers will also welcome back Nathan Cleary from the ankle injury sustained in Origin II.
"It's starting to get to the point where it's no longer pussy-footing around each other and sugar coating it," Sims said. "We've got the talent there, we've got the people that can do the job and have done the job in the past, but we're just lacking the intent at the moment.
"We need to change that around as quick as we can because we need to win six out of eight, it's crunch time. We don't want to be getting to the end of the season sitting on our hands and hoping for other teams to lose, because that's an uncontrollable.
"We want to control what we can do and that's the way that we prepare for Penrith this weekend."
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