Soward: Panthers must realise teams will be watching their every move

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We’re on the cusp of another NRL season and my first since retiring from the game at the end of last year.

For my debut column in Extra Time, I thought I’d take you through my top eight predictions, how the Panthers will fair in 2017, as well as who I’m tipping this weekend between my two former clubs in the Dragons and Penrith.

In no particular order, my top eight for 2017 should look like this at the end of 26 rounds: Penrith, Melbourne, North Queensland, Roosters, Canberra, New Zealand, Brisbane and South Sydney.

I’ve left a few teams out like the Bulldogs and Parramatta but you can only pick eight teams and it is a hard choice with so many on the improve.

I noticed in recent weeks everyone tipping the Panthers to take out this year’s title.

I think the expectation can be welcomed by the Panthers and they should feel proud they are on everyone’s radar.

However, you don’t want to get too comfortable with it all and knowing Hook (Anthony Griffin), he won’t allow that. For the Panthers they should aim to win three from their first four games, and they have to realise teams will be watching them.

I personally think they’ll go great – they have good depth and the key to me is Tyrone Peachey. Where do you play him? Where’s his best fit?

If Penrith can get the balance right between playing ‘entertaining footy’ and ‘grind it out footy’, then they’ll be hard to stop.

I’m looking forward to seeing Nathan Cleary and Te Marie Martin team up in the halves for the first time this weekend.

What that young halves pairing have in their favour is veteran Peter Wallace at hooker.

Wal’s a great leader on the field and will control the ruck much like Mick Ennis did at the Sharks.

For Te Maire, he’s only played a couple of first grade games and, when I played with him, we told him to run and support and that’s what he’s good at.

I think Nathan will do the bulk of the kicking and directing of play, and we’ll see Moyza chime in when he needs to.

This Saturday afternoon my two former clubs in the Panthers and Dragons will do battle at Kogarah.

It’s a tough environment to play at because you go there thinking one thing and then all of a sudden it’s tight with a couple of minutes to go.

The Dragons have an uncanny knack, at Kogarah, of playing within themselves and they always find a way to win. The only danger for Penrith will be within the team themselves.

If the Panthers go in believing their own hype and don’t perform then they could come out surprise losers in Round 1.

I don’t think that happens though and I’m tipping the Panthers.

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