The Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs take on the Penrith Panthers this Sunday at Pepper Stadium.
In what will be a re-match of last years Preliminary Final, the Bulldogs boast some high profile off-season recruits including Brett Morris (Dragons), up and coming hooker Michael Lichaa (Sharks) and giant winger Curtis Rona (Cowboys).
Veteran Sam Perrett moves back to the wing, allowing for Australian and NSW representative Brett Morris to take up the custodian role. Morris scored 14 tries in 18 games in 2014 to take his tally to 112 tries from 169 career matches.
Grand finalist Corey Thompson makes way for Cowboys recruit Curtis Rona who scored 6 tries in 7 games for North Queensland in his debut season. Standing at 194cm tall or 6 foot 4 inches, Rona will add another dimension to the Dogs backline which some said was lacking in attacking options last year.
The departure of Michael Ennis to Cronulla has allowed English Test representative James Graham to take the reigns as skipper of Canterbury. It will be the first time in the side’s 80-year history that an English born player will captain the side.
Michael Lichaa will replace Ennis as the new rake, already having earned a City Representative jumper in his debut year; many believe Lichaa is a future Origin and Test player after only 15 first grade games.
The Bulldogs forward pack stays the same apart from that, and co-captain Aiden Tolman (who plays his 150th first grade game this Sunday) believes that his side will be focused on this year and not get caught up on Penrith’s heroics the previous season.
“It’s a new slate, it is a new season but in saying that too it’s going to be a tough game. I imagine they haven’t changed too much going into this season, because we haven’t as well.
“So it’s the first game and it’s about blowing the cobwebs out and making sure we complete our sets. Whoever does that for most I believe will win the game.
“That’s what Penrith do they’re good at getting through their sets, completing, they’ve got a good kicking game and trying to strangle you out of it,” said Tolman.
George Jennings, the younger brother of Test and Origin star Michael Jennings makes his debut for Penrith on the wing, while 110kg prop Reagan Campbell-Gillard also gets his debut off the bench. Otherwise the Panthers have the same devastating backline that took them to within one game of the Grand Final.
“Right across the park, they’ve got a good forward pack which needs to be stopped first. But then you’ve got guys out the back like Soward, Moylan, Idris, other guys like that who are really dangerous.
“So for us, being a forward, it’s about stopping their middle. They had a great season last year, they were one game away from the grand final, and they’ll be expecting to do one better this year. But for us, for me, it needs to be stopped in the middle,” added Tolman.
Head To Head
Played 86, Canterbury 49, Penrith 34, drawn 3
At Pepper Stadium
Played 42, Canterbury 22, Penrith 19, drawn 1
Words: Jack Novak