There's no bigger first-up test for a young Panthers side than back-to-back premiers the Roosters.
The Tricolours tuned up for the season with a World Club Challenge victory against St Helens in September, keeping the wheels rolling despite the departures of Latrell Mitchell and Cooper Cronk.
Penrith have lost some experience in chief playmaker James Maloney but a few exciting recruits and emerging talent has them confident they can return to the finals.
Match: Panthers v Roosters
Round 1 -
Venue: BlueBet Stadium, Penrith
Panthers: James Fisher-Harris (pec) comes into the starting side with Viliame Kikau dropping back to the bench. Billy Burns and Matt Burton are the final cuts from the match-day squad. Caleb Aekins is the new fullback in the absence of Dylan Edwards (ankle). Second-row recruit Kurt Capewell (quad) is still missing. Api Koroisau returns at hooker after a stint at Manly, while Zane Tetevano takes on his premiership-winning teammates. Jed Cartwright and Kaide Ellis were omitted from the extended squad on Friday night.
Roosters: Angus Crichton is a late withdrawal with a chest infection. Brett Morris shifts in to take Crichton's place in the centres and Matt Ikuvalu comes on to the wing. Poasa Faamausili is the other match-day omission. Lachlan Lam and Asu Kepaoa were cut from the 21-man squad on Friday. Co-captain Boyd Cordner was rested from the World Club Challenge and has been given another week off by coach Trent Robinson. Sitili Tupouniua gets a crack in the starting side in the second row after coming off the bench 15 times in 2019 and starting only once.
Match: Panthers v Roosters
Round 1 -
Fullback for Panthers is number 1 Caleb AekinsFullback for Roosters is number 1 James Tedesco
Winger for Panthers is number 2 Josh MansourWinger for Roosters is number 2 Daniel Tupou
Centre for Panthers is number 3 Dean WhareCentre for Roosters is number 4 Joseph Manu
Centre for Panthers is number 4 Brent NadenCentre for Roosters is number 5 Brett Morris
Winger for Panthers is number 5 Brian To'oWinger for Roosters is number 18 Matt Ikuvalu
Five-Eighth for Panthers is number 6 Jarome LuaiFive-Eighth for Roosters is number 6 Luke Keary
Halfback for Panthers is number 7 Nathan ClearyHalfback for Roosters is number 7 Kyle Flanagan
Prop for Panthers is number 8 James TamouProp for Roosters is number 8 Jared Waerea-Hargreaves
Hooker for Panthers is number 9 Apisai KoroisauHooker for Roosters is number 9 Jake Friend
Prop for Panthers is number 10 Zane TetevanoProp for Roosters is number 10 Siosiua Taukeiaho
2nd Row for Panthers is number 12 Liam Martin2nd Row for Roosters is number 11 Sitili Tupouniua
2nd Row for Panthers is number 15 James Fisher-Harris2nd Row for Roosters is number 12 Mitchell Aubusson
Lock for Panthers is number 13 Isaah YeoLock for Roosters is number 13 Victor Radley
Interchange for Panthers is number 11 Viliame KikauInterchange for Roosters is number 14 Sam Verrills
Interchange for Panthers is number 14 Stephen CrichtonInterchange for Roosters is number 15 Isaac Liu
Interchange for Panthers is number 16 Moses LeotaInterchange for Roosters is number 16 Nat Butcher
Interchange for Panthers is number 17 Jack HetheringtonInterchange for Roosters is number 17 Lindsay Collins
- Referee: Adam Gee
- Referee: Chris Butler
- Touch Judge: Nick Beashel
- Senior Review Official: Steve Chiddy
James Tamou v Jared Waerea-Hargreaves. Neither will take a backward step as they look to gain superiority up front and lay the foundations for a first-up win. JWH has established himself as one of the game's pre-eminent props while Tamou will be out to rediscover the damaging form that had him in NSW and Australian jerseys in 2016.
For the Panthers to win
With Maloney gone, now is Nathan Cleary's time to step up. The halfback's fingerprints will be all over the game if the scoreboard reads in Penrith's favour after 80 minutes. The Panthers are giving away some experience but their young guns can do the job if they don't get overawed.
For the Roosters to win
For all the glitz and glamour in attack, everything the Roosters have achieved is based on their defence. Their watertight wall was on show again in the World Club Challenge. Joey Manu looms as the premiers' major offensive weapon after Mitchell's move to South Sydney.
Brett Kimmorley says
Coming off a solid World Club Challenge victory, I expect the Roosters to win first up. Kyle Flanagan is a quality player – he'll learn under the retired Cooper Cronk and play a similar style – while Luke Keary and James Tedesco finished last year on fire. Api Koroisau is an amazing buy for Penrith, but I think the Roosters will have too much mental toughness. Roosters by 8.
Roosters superstar James Tedesco led the NRL in tackle breaks (166) and run metres (4,920) last year, but he also had more handling errors (37) than anyone. Luke Keary was first in line break assists (20) and second in try assists (22).
And another thing ...
Panthers coach Ivan Cleary scored 722 points in 81 games for the Roosters in the late 1990s, finishing the 1998 season as the NRL's leading point-scorer after scoring 13 tries and kicking 116 goals.