Panthers prepare for first hit-out of new season

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The Panthers preparing for this weekend's trial. Photo: Megan Dunn

With star halfback Nathan Cleary still recovering from off-season ankle surgery, young gun Jarome Luai will partner James Maloney in the halves for this Saturday night’s trial game against South Sydney.

Dubbed the John Sutton Testimonial, the match will be played at South Sydney’s traditional home of Redfern Oval at 6pm.

Minus Cleary, Dallin Watene-Zelezniak and last week’s NRL All Stars representatives in Dean Whare, James Fisher-Harris and James Tamou, Penrith have named a relatively strong side to do battle against Wayne Bennett’s Rabbitohs.

Fullback Dylan Edwards will make his long-awaited return to the game following 10 months on the sidelines with a major shoulder injury.

“I’ll be playing this weekend, I’m not sure how long I’ll be playing but I’m definitely excited,” Edwards told the Weekender.

New recruit Malakai Watene-Zelezniak will partner Josh Mansour on the wing, while Waqa Blake returns to the centres alongside former Rabbitoh Tyrell Fuimaono.

Speaking with the Weekender, Blake said he was looking forward to returning to the field and playing under Ivan Cleary again.

“I can’t wait, it’s been a long pre-season and we’re all looking forward to it,” he said.

Nathan Taylor chatting to Waqa Blake this week. Photo: Megan Dunn

“It’s good to have Ivan back, my first year in grade was the last time he was here. Ivan’s been really good for us, he’s building the club culture and everyone is buying into it.”

Following a sensational back end to 2018 – linking up with Fijian powerhouse Viliame Kikau on the left edge – Blake said he’s looking forward to combining with his fellow countryman again this season.

“Before I got injured I was playing on the right side and when I returned I was on the left, and that was the first time we ever linked up together,” he said.

“We honestly didn’t know what to expect from it but we pulled it off and we are looking forward to combining again this season.

“We’re training together, we do everything together, and it’s only going to get better for us.”

Issah Yeo leading the way at training this week. Photo: Megan Dunn

After off-season surgery, James Maloney will give his repaired neck a good test when he links up with Jarome Luai in the halves.

Sione Katoa has won the starting dummy half role over Wayde Egan, while Reagan Campbell-Gillard and Moses Leota will play up front.

Consistent performers Isaah Yeo and Viliame Kikau have been named in the back-row, with Dragons recruit Hame Sele getting first crack at lock.

If you can’t make it to tomorrow night’s trial, the match will be live streamed on the South Sydney Rabbitohs website.

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