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Young Panthers forward Liam Martin starred in his team's 15-12 win over Manly on Thursday night after only finding out that morning he was playing.

It was exactly the type of performance that could convince the 22-year-old he's a first-grader.

Martin was forced to suit up four days after running around for Penrith's Canterbury Cup side after Viliame Kikau was ruled out with a virus on Thursday morning.

Martin carved through Manly's right side defence to set up Dylan Edwards for a first-half try then plucked a loose ball spilled by Brendan Elliot from a kick for his side's only other try.

Coach Ivan Cleary suggested the only thing stopping Martin being an automatic starter week to week was self-belief and Martin admitted to being nervous when he first got his NRL chance. After six games he finally has his first NRL win and says he's starting to get more familiar in the top grade.

"First win tonight; I'm sort of getting more comfortable," Martin said.

Martin breaks through for Edwards to score

"I was very nervous at the start and felt a bit out of my depth but sort of getting into the groove and feeling more natural.

"I've been watching these guys since I was a young bloke and admiring them and I was just looking around going 'wow I can't believe I'm out here'."

Cleary saw plenty of Martin as the young forward came through the grades with Cleary's son, Panthers and NSW halfback Nathan.

"I always thought he was more than capable, he's a hard tackler and ran good lines. Probably just needs to believe in himself a little bit more and I think tonight will help that," Cleary said.

"It's easy to say that to someone but you want them to actually feel it out there in first grade. He did a good job. It will only do his confidence a world of good."

With Martin having almost exclusively played as a middle forward in his young career to date, Cleary joked he may have to leave the young lock on an edge from now on after having little choice but to use him there following Kikau's withdrawal.

"[Kikau] came in for training [Wednesday] and he was crook. We did everything he could but he woke up still with a fever, he's got the flu so at 8:30 [the call was made]," Cleary said.

"Liam actually played NSW Cup on Sunday so it was only a four-day turnaround. He was a pretty good inclusion, he was terrific tonight.

"When I rang him actually, you could hear in his voice how excited he was. He's had a couple of good games for us. He was close to selection [originally]. I was thinking of him more as a middle player but the way it turned out tonight I threw him on the edge and yeah, might have to stay there."

Martin however expected Kikau to reclaim that role next week.

Martin pounces on Elliot error

"It was a bit unexpected," Martin said.

"I turned up to the captain's run last night and Billy was a bit crook. Ivan just said make sure you're right to go and I was thinking 'nah surely he'll be right' but he called me this morning and told me I'm playing, I couldn't believe it.

"I've played mostly lock in the games I've played. He said I'll be back row so I just thought, I've played with Jarome [Luai] in juniors so we sort of had a bit of a combo there."

"He's so dangerous he kind of creates that space for you so it's good running off him then I've got Nado [centre Brent Naden] on my outside who I played footy with as well which was good."

Martin was ecstatic to finally savour his first victory.

"It's such a better vibe," he said.

"No-one likes losing and getting the win is just unreal."

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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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