Penrith front-rower James Tamou has declared St George Illawarra's forward pack the best in the competition ahead of their highly-anticipated top-of-the-table clash on Saturday.
The Dragons have established themselves as the team to beat this year after winning nine of their opening 11 games, including an impressive thrashing of defending premiers Melbourne.
The Panthers have quietly risen to second spot but have done so despite only facing one of the current top-four sides this year - a round-two win over South Sydney.
Tamou warned that his teammates needed to find another level against the Dragons in a contest that Panthers officials expect to go close to a sellout.
"They're the pinnacle. We have to step up massively and it starts with us in the middle there. They've got some big boppers that are still skilful and have good footwork," Tamou said on Monday.
"Take nothing away from the Tigers, but we really have to step it up against the Dragons."
With a combined 12 players from both sides in contention for a State of Origin berth - and game one teams named at the end of the round - stakes will be high.
Almost the entire Dragons forward pack - minus James Graham - are in line for a Blues jumper.
Asked if the Dragons' big men were the best in the competition, Tamou said: "I think so. Very mobile, big, skillful, and they're all pretty fit. Most of them if not all of them could play Origin."
While the Dragons have already begun preparations to be ravaged during the Origin period, the Panthers also expect to be further depleted by representative selection.
Halves pairing James Maloney and Nathan Cleary are in the running to the Blues' playmakers, while Reagan Campbell-Gillard is widely tipped to have sewn up a front-row spot.
Tamou believed the team's results over the opening three months, in spite of their injury problems, proves they have enough depth to remain competitive during the middle of the season.
He singled out rookie firebrand Jack Hetherington as one forward who has impressed.
"He's fresh and raw, strong," Tamou said.
"He's a powerful thing and does a really good job off the bench. We've got a couple more lined up and they'll get a chance come Origin time."