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The NRL's two most talked about men in 2018 began their tenure at their new clubs on Saturday night as the Panthers claimed a 28-8 victory over the Rabbitohs.

Ivan Cleary and Wayne Bennett were in different colours to what they finished last year as they sat atop the stands at a wet and cold Redfern Oval for a trial that doubled as the John Sutton Testimonial match.

Both coaches, who used their stars sparingly on the night, have plenty to look forward in 2019 when you consider their rosters, but they have equally as much pressure trying to live up to the premiership expectations placed on both clubs.

Cleary's return to the Panthers coaching box was marred by an early injury to damaging back-rower Viliame Kikau, who now appears in severe doubt for the opening round of the season after picking up a right knee injury.

Kikau lasted just three minutes and left the ground with his knee in a brace and requiring the assistance of crutches to leave the venue after the five tries to two win.

It's suspected Kikau suffered a grade 1-2 medial ligament tear with scans on Monday to determine the severity of the injury.

He will be racing the clock for round one, however, there is a chance he could miss the first month of the season.

Rabbitohs hooker Damien Cook.
Rabbitohs hooker Damien Cook. ©Gregg Porteous/NRL Photos

"It looks like he's damaged his medial but I don't think it's too bad," Cleary said.

"We'll just have to wait and see. He's had a great pre-season, but it's not going to be too bad. He'll play a big part in our season.

"Unfortunately, someone gets injured in these games. Hopefully, it's not too bad.''

While Kikau was being helped from the field by two trainers following the awkward three-man tackle, the Panthers nabbed first points of the match when hooker Sione Katoa dummied and burrowed over from close range to give his side a 6-0 lead.

Penrith doubled their lead soon after when Waqa Blake tapped back a James Maloney bomb to allow Reagan Campbell-Gillard to dive over for the easiest of four-pointers.

Sam Burgess, along with most of the Rabbitohs top 17, didn't take the field until the second quarter but Burgess made his presence felt immediately by forcing a knock on with his first tackle.

Unfortunately, his brother Tom's first involvement wasn't as positive, spilling the pill with his side deep on the attack.

Panthers five-eighth James Maloney.
Panthers five-eighth James Maloney. ©Gregg Porteous/NRL Photos

A rushed Sutton kick, which was fumbled by Malakai Watene-Zelezniak, saw South Sydney toe-poke the ball ahead. Jacob Gagan won the race, touching down ball inches before the dead-ball line.

While Penrith started the stronger of the two teams, it was hard to deny the momentum completely shifted when the Rabbitohs brought their big guns on the field in the second quarter despite the fact Greg Inglis and Adam Reynolds were unavailable through injury.

Cody Walker and Sutton combined to continue the Rabbitohs' ascendancy into the break, providing for Gagan to dive over untouched in the corner to send his side into the sheds trailing 12-8.

That's all Bennett wanted to see – pulling the majority of his stars from the paddock at half-time with 20 minutes under their belt in front of a crowd of 4111.

James Maloney, whose halves partner Nathan Cleary watched on from the stands, made a successful return from neck surgery for Penrith.

Dylan Edwards, who missed the majority of last season with a shoulder injury, also returned to action.

Edwards is the frontrunner to start the season in the No.1 jersey as Dallin Watene-Zelezniak recovers from a knee injury.

"Most likely," Cleary said when asked if Edwards would start the season at fullback.

It looks like he’s damaged his medial but I don’t think it’s too bad

Ivan Cleary on Viliame Kikau's injury

"Unfortunately for Dallin, his preseason has been cut short after knee surgery. He's looking pretty good. We're still training them both in that position. Dal's not going to play next week either. Hopefully, he will be right for round one."

Tyrone May, who is in line to start the season in the top 17 given the injury to Kikau, grabbed Penrith's third try of the night for an 18-8 buffer.

Jed Cartwright stretched Penrith out to an unassailable lead with 13 minutes remaining, latching on to a Wayde Egan grubber to give Penrith a 24-8 advantage.

Brent Naden put the icing on the cake in the dying minutes when he grabbed Penrith's fifth try of the match.

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National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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