It’s been raining cats and dogs in western Sydney for the last week, so it’s fitting that the Penrith Panthers take on the Canterbury Bulldogs in this fascinating round one clash. Join us for live scores and commentary from 7.30pm AEDT.
Six months after they faced off in the 2011 NRL grand final, Ivan Cleary and Des Hasler go head to head again – only this time, they’re both at the helm of completely different clubs.
Cleary’s appointment as Panthers coach was announced towards the back end of the 2011 season, and his arrival ushers in a new era for the club under the watchful eye of high-profile general manager Phil Gould.
Hasler, on the other hand, came to the Bulldogs during a tumultuous off-season in which he was ousted from the Sea Eagles just one month after guiding them to a memorable premiership.
Both men will be looking to make a statement in their opening hit-out, and it’s Hasler’s Bulldogs that will start favourites despite Penrith holding the home ground advantage and a head-to-head lead of 7-3 in these clubs’ last 10 encounters.
For Penrith, the majority of the headlines in the last few weeks have surrounded the battle for fullback between Michael Gordon and Lachlan Coote. Gordon’s versatility appears to have worked against him on this occasion, being named on the wing while Coote nabbed the No. 1 jersey.
Luke Lewis leads the Panthers out as captain following the departure of influential leader Petero Civoniceva. The Panthers also welcome three new recruits into their forward rotation in Cameron Ciraldo, Chris Armit and Clint Newton.
Meanwhile, Hasler has opted to play Josh Reynolds at five-eighth alongside Trent Hodkinson in the Bulldogs’ halves, ahead of expected pivot Kris Keating.
Dene Halatau steps into the starting role vacated by back rower Andrew Ryan’s retirement, while much-lauded UK prop James Graham will be injected from the bench.
The conditions will be slippery so expect the fullbacks to be tested – both Lachlan Coote and Benny Barba struggled with confidence at times under the high ball in 2011.
Will it be Hasler or Cleary who gets the maiden win at their new club tonight? Join us from 7.30pm tonight for live score updates and debate on our live blog.