Panthers face Broncos to kick-off new NRL campaign

Panthers winger Brian To'o. Photo: NRL Images.
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You’ve heard all about the next man up policy at Penrith; how players departing and even injuries have little impact on the side.

You saw it in action last year when Sean O’Sullivan produced a host of winning performances when replacing the injured, and then suspended, Nathan Cleary.

You saw it when Izack Tago replaced Matt Burton after the 2021 Grand Final – seamless, even if different players entirely.

There is no question that the mantra gets tested more than ever in 2023, with Api Koroisau and Viliame Kikau departing the club and Taylan May to spend the year on the sideline after picking up a devastating ACL injury in the pre-season.

And so who replaces May? Sunia Turuva, of course. Opportunity knocks for this excitement machine, who plenty of Penrith fans were screaming to see more of last year. His performance for Fiji in the mid-season Test against Papua New Guinea was enough to prove that we’ve got something special in this 20-year-old flyer. They just keep coming.

Sunia Turuva was a star for Fiji last year. Photo: NRL Images.

It was no surprise to see Mitch Kenny named at hooker as life without Koroisau begins, but the one selection that did perhaps raise some eyebrows was that of Soni Luke on the bench. It points to Penrith using a similar game plan to last year where Kenny started matches at hooker before Koroisau offered a burst of energy and Kenny was then used elsewhere in the pack.

Luke Garner replaces Kikau in the second-row, as expected. It’ll be intriguing to watch what he brings to the side given the boots he has to fill, but it may result in Penrith going right a lot more, at least in these first few games – Liam Martin may see plenty more ball this year.
With no Reece Walsh, Brisbane will go with Selwyn Cobbo at fullback as they look to kick off their campaign in strong fashion after last year’s tumble out of the top eight.

It’ll be the second straight year the Broncos will start the season without their prized recruit, after Adam Reynolds missed the opening game of the 2022 campaign. Reynolds is there front and centre on Friday night, however, and is without question the danger man in Brisbane’s side – Penrith will need to shut down his kicking game and limit his opportunities if they’re to get the two competition points.

Brisbane’s forward pack is nothing to be sneezed at. Payne Haas will be looking to prove his worth this season, while we know what Kurt Capewell can do and Patrick Carrigan returns at lock.

Penrith have been short-priced favourites with the bookmakers ever since markets opened for this game, which is understandable given the quality of the side and its stunning record at BlueBet Stadium.

But while Penrith proved this wrong last year, defending Premiers can often have slow starts to new seasons; the limited pre-season catching up with them as they try to get back into the groove.

I do believe the Panthers will get the chocolates on Friday night, but I’m expecting it to be a lot closer than most are predicting.

Tip: Panthers by 8.

Penrith and Brisbane play at BlueBet Stadium on Friday, March 3 at 8.05pm. The game is live on Channel 9 and Fox Sports, and on radio via 2GB and ABC.

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