You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Griffin backs NRL halves to beat pressure

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 3/03/2017 Scott Bailey

Te Maire Martin and Nathan Cleary are being hyped as the next star halves combination of the NRL, but Penrith coach Anthony Griffin isn't expecting immediate miracles.

After excelling individually in 2016, the youngsters will play together for the first time at NRL level on Saturday afternoon in the Panthers' season opener against St George Illawarra.

The pair have worked closely with Griffin and Panthers general manager Phil Gould in the off-season, but will face their first real test against a Dragons pack Griffin expects to target them.

"They'll be under a lot of pressure, no doubt, from St George Illawarra," Griffin said.

"They're young and the only way they're going to get experience is to play together, so there's no magic solution."

Martin played six games for Penrith last year, scoring a try and kicking the winning field goal on debut against Brisbane, before his season ended prematurely with a shoulder injury.

The 21-year-old was later replaced by Cleary in the halves, who guided the side to within two weeks of the grand final.

And despite Cleary's tender age of 19, Griffin has seen enough to know he won't be shaken by the weight of expectation at UOW Jubilee Oval or throughout the season.

"They're both level-headed kids," Griffin said.

"You saw Nathan last year with his composure and that will be the main part of his game tomorrow, particularly if conditions are wet."

The pair have also been working closely in video and on the field with Gould throughout the pre-season, as he has taken a more hands-on role in recent years at the club.

"To be able to work with a guy like that is a real advantage for everyone at the club," Griffin said.

"He's one of the greatest coaches in the game. He's won Origin series for NSW ... and he's won grand finals.

"He is just a great mentor for everyone here."

Penrith are early-season favourites for the first time in the NRL era, but Griffin expects the Dragons to enter the contest motivated by off-season criticism of their attack.

That could be helped by coach Paul McGregor indicating he could inject lively rookie Jai Field into the halves on Saturday during his debut.

With big-minute props on the bench, McGregor has been able to name Field at No.17, where he is likely to come on as halfback, with Josh McCrone sliding to hooker in place of Cameron McInnes.

"It is a good opportunity to give Jai time and bring him along slowly so he's not under pressure straight up," McGregor said.

"It does give you the ability to put Jai on at a part of the game where players could be under a bit of fatigue."

STATS THAT MATTER:

* Penrith have only scored more than 20 points once against the Dragons since 2004

* The Dragons scored just 341 points last year - the lowest season aggregate in the joint-venture club's history

* Dragons winger Jason Nightingale needs only one try to move to fourth on the club's try-scoring list with 93

Source: Fox Sports Stats

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon