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Penrith coach Ivan Cleary saw enough to suggest the Panthers were going to remain a team to beat in 2021 after opening their account with a 24-0 win over the Cowboys on Saturday.

Last year's runners-up dominated possession in the first half and had 38 tackles inside the Cowboys' 20-metre zone but could manage only one try, through Kurt Capewell in the seventh minute.

They eventually hit their straps with three tries in nine minutes, through Dylan Edwards, Brian To'o and Isaah Yeo, to break the Cowboys' spirit and rack up yet another win at home.

It was Penrith's 10th consecutive victory at Panthers Stadium in front of a COVID-restricted crowd of 14,077.

With much of the focus in the off-season around whether the Panthers could reproduce their efforts from 2020, Ivan Cleary's side was perhaps guilty of pushing the pass early before clicking into gear.

"We like to think we're going to [still] be tough to beat," Cleary said after the win.

"On the experience front we'll have to find out, but I feel that the team is well connected and they have taken responsibility for themselves from what I've seen.

"I thought the first half I was really happy with apart from we couldn't ice some opportunities that we're going to need to.

"We were never going to play our best football tonight and that showed. We go away with the two points but have plenty to work on.

"It's never easy to hold a team to zero. They wouldn't say they had the best game but have a lot of strike in the side and they put us under pressure around the ruck in the second half."

The Cowboys began Todd Payten's tenure at the club with some gutsy first-half defence but far too many fundamental errors to trouble one of the competition favourites.

The visitors made life hard for themselves with a 61% completion rate in the opening half and that figure only improved slightly in the second period.

However, they were kept in the match early as the Panthers failed to make the most of their opportunities.

Nathan Cleary looked dangerous throughout the contest, setting up the opening try for Capewell on the right edge before the back-rower shifted to the left side to relieve Viliame Kikau.

Kikau was at his steamrolling best for the home side early but teammate Stephen Crichton struggled to hold the ball and was among those guilty of throwing a pass too many.

Cleary feeds Capewell for the first four-pointer

Payten included three first-string hookers in the 17 with Reuben Cotter coming on the paddock to play a middle role but the side struggled to respond.

Michael Morgan showed glimpses in attack, while defensively the Cowboys were gutsy at stages with three try-savers.

A monster 40/20 kick from Cleary that sent Kyle Feldt into no-man's land were among the highlights of the night.

Feldt, a notable kick-restarter of his own, wasn't as good, sending two restarts over the dead-ball line.

Panthers recruit Paul Momirovski was denied a try by the Bunker in the 32nd minute with replays showing he spilt the ball over the line.

To'o gets the Panthers crowd cheering

The game was busted open from the 52nd minute when Edwards found some lazy defence around the middle of the paddock to cross untouched.

From there, the dominant left edge attack of Jarome Luai, Crichton and To'o kicked into gear with a four-pointer to the winger.

To'o, among the Panthers' best on the night with 153 running metres and nine tackle busts, was denied a second try before the break.

A spectacular effort from Liam Martin in the air to climb high and take a Cleary bomb and ofload to Yeo set up the fourth try.

The man setting the platform for Cleary and Luai to work off was Kiwi enforcer James Fisher-Harris, who ran for 211 metres from 22 hit-ups.

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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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