Penrith coach Anthony Griffin has hinted young five-eighth Te Maire Martin is the frontrunner to join Nathan Cleary in the Panthers' halves next season, but refused to definitively rule out Bryce Cartwright from continuing in the role he made his own in 2016.
Martin burst onto the scene with a match-winning display on debut against the previously unbeaten Brisbane Broncos in Round 3 when he scored a late try and then kicked a field goal to complete a 23-22 come-from-behind victory.
He played five more matches in 2016 before his season was cut short after sustaining a serious shoulder injury during the Round 8 loss to the Sharks.
The 21-year-old was expected to be out for the season but featured in reserve grade at the backend of 2016 and was an outside chance to return for the Panthers in the finals series.
An impressive albeit disrupted season culminated in Martin's selection in the New Zealand squad for the Four Nations tour to the United Kingdom where he made his international debut off the bench in the 18-all draw with Scotland.
Having played all six of his NRL matches alongside Jamie Soward in the halves, Martin is tipped to team up with boom 2016 rookie Nathan Cleary in what would be one of the most exciting halves pairings in the Telstra Premiership.
The 19-year-old halfback played like a seasoned veteran to help guide the Panthers to within two wins of the grand final last year, and Panthers fans are hoping he and Martin can take the club even further in 2017.
Griffin praised the electrifying Martin for his efforts last season, but was quick to point out that the versatile Bryce Cartwright shone when given an opportunity in the halves.
"Te Maire had, for want of a better word, a 'breakout' season last year," Griffin told 2KY's Big Sports Breakfast.
"He got his first taste of first grade. He went on the [Four Nations] tour without playing a lot of football, but he'll get a lot of experience out of that.
"We'll give him every chance to team up with Nathan, but also be mindful that we got deep into the playoffs last year by using Bryce in that role as well.
"I've got an open mind still, I think our list is still evolving to a point, and obviously my role is to try and get the best out of players in my team so I'll be playing my part to get the best out of Te Maire, and if that means that he ends up playing five-eighth for us, that'll be great for everyone."