Penrith halfback Nathan Cleary said he felt the side picked up where they left off last season after overcoming arch-rivals Parramatta 16-6 in a high-intensity trial game at Panthers Stadium.
With both western Sydney clubs fielding near full-strength teams for their only trial before round one, Cleary and recently re-signed halves partner Jarome Luai crossed for tries either side of half-time to build a 12-0 lead.
From there the Panthers displayed the sort of defence which led them to last year's grand final, showing no signs of a 2020 hangover leading into their season opener against the Cowboys on March 13.
"It was a good first trial to have that intensity against a good Parra side," Cleary said.
"The pre-season we've had has built into this, we've laid the foundation to kick off where we wanted to.
Match: Panthers v Eels
Round 3 -
Venue: BlueBet Stadium, Penrith
"We can probably still get a bit better in attack but I thought we defended well."
Cleary stepped out alongside a new-look right edge that included Maroons representative Kurt Capewell, new recruit Paul Momirovski and rising sensation Charlie Staines.
Panthers coach Ivan Cleary said Capewell was likely to start in the back row in round one ahead of Liam Martin, who came off the bench.
"Kurt started out there last year," Cleary said. "We'll have to rotate our three back-rowers early in the season.
"Marto will do a bit of work in the middle but that's nothing new."
Panthers hooker Api Koroisau was also at his weaving best to set up Cleary's try in the second half and prove a handful through the middle.
Both teams blew off the cobwebs with end-to-end play in the opening half before Luai lit up the left edge with a typical light-footed effort to step inside two defenders on his way to the line.
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"I thought the first half was at a good speed, it was good practice," coach Cleary said.
"Most of our team is the same but as a coach, it's always nice. You feel like programs are going well and you're doing everything right but you still need to see them play.
"There was a little bit of rust but I thought lots of things were good."
Momirovski did his chances of locking in the Panthers' right centre spot no harm alongside Staines, who was solid without brilliant on the edge.
Fresh from re-committing to the Panthers on Friday, Luai was first to leave the field in the second half as Ivan Cleary turned to Bulldogs-bound Matt Burton for some much-needed game time.
Key men Koroisau and Nathan Cleary soon followed Luai to the sidelines as the clock wound down before Burton sealed the result late with a slick cut-out pass for Taylan May to cross in the corner.