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I’m excited for the footy to be back this weekend!  It’s an unusual start to the year. It feels like the NRL has started early.  This is because the World Cup cricket is taking place and it’s only half way through the tournament!

Among the off-field dramas with the Gold Coast Titans, John Sutton and Luke Burgess (and the never ending yawn-fest about Daly Cherry-Evan’s future), there were some changes for the 2015 season around interpretations at the ruck as the NRL look to outlaw the wrestling tackle.  I’m a bit skeptical as to whether this will work.  For the early rounds I suspect there will be a heavy clampdown, but it will be relaxed as the season goes on and right to the point of non-existence when it’s finals time because let’s face it, no referee wants to cost any team during the pointy end of the season (except if they are North Queensland!).

A glitch in the NRL broadcasting rights will mean the “live” Sunday football game for this week’s Dogs game will be televised an hour late in Queensland.  The sooner the NRL step in and allow Foxtel to show these games live into Queensland, the better!  The AFL manage to show all games live.  Another reason why the NRL is years behind the AFL.

And our off-season was smattered with re-signing a few of our current squad and the purchase of the talented Trent Merrin!  On that, the thing I would like resolved sooner rather than later is the Adam Docker situation, before he ends up the next Tim Grant in being disillusioned with where he will play next year.

So I digress, it’s time to talk about the Mighty Panthers game against the Dogs!  REVENGE!!! Let’s be honest – Canterbury had that Grand Final qualifier to lose.  Look at the side that took the field that night for the Mountain Men.  Will Smith played five-eighth, Titan-bound Matt Robinson, and fringe player Ben Murdoch-Masila were in the starting seventeen.  We still managed to get within six points.

So Super Coach Ivan Cleary has some headaches ahead of round one.  No Sauce.  No Dave Simmons as a backup.  Plum in his final season of NRL is out injured.  You couldn’t argue with who he’s bought in.  George Jennings – gun player part of a generation of Jennings to come out of the Panthers club over the last decade.  Regan Campbell-Gillard – named on the extended bench and might be set to make the final seventeen even though there’s some good subs in J Latimore, T Peachey, B Cartwright, I Yeo and A Koroisau.

Let’s forget about the trial results even though some doomsdayers were saying after the Parra trial that we are in for a long season!  Absolute garbage… are we all worried about the success of 2014 bringing us unstuck this year? Seriously, Gould and Cleary have built the foundations for the club to have success and we as supporters must trust their instincts.

The Dogs look good – very good!  B Morris, J Morris.  Curtis Rona is going to kill it at the top level.  Lafai is strong.  Origin halves.  BIG PACK.  BIG BENCH.  In oppressive heat at Penrith the last two statements will play against the Dogs.  Big pack and bench.  If the Panthers play smart and continue to drive the Dogs back with a smart kicking game, you can imagine that Tolman, Graham, Tony Williams and big Sam Kasiano might struggle a bit!  This means at the back end of the game the likes of Moylan, Jennings and close-to-best hooker (if not the best) in the game Segeyaro can start to punish the Dogs.

I eluded to it earlier about the rule changes and I would be very surprised it the players struggle with discipline over the first few rounds.  I expect Josh Reynolds and Graham will struggle in this department with multiple infringements.  It’s might not come down to the big forward packs, or the talent out wide, but ultimately possession and how well you use the ball that determines whether you win.

For me, I’m not a doomsdayer.  I’m a believer that despite the odds appearing to be against us that we can get off to a winning start at home.  A record I might add that only saw us lose twice at Pepper Stadium in 2014.

For all those searching for a preview, check out here a non-Panthers opinion from NothingButLeague writer Jake Bull.  He’s tipping a Panthers win by 4.

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