New year, same old tough Bathurst Panthers.
Led by warhorse prop Brent Seager and finished off by some silky smooth backline moves from new recruits Louis Murphy and Kevin Murray, the men in black kicked off their premiership defence with a convincing 44-10 triumph over Blayney at Carrington Park.
Played in the lead-up to Saturday night's NRL clash between the Penrith Panthers and the Melbourne Storm, the 2018 Group 10 champions skipped out to a 22-6 lead at the break before completing a tricky, earlier-than-normal round one assignment with four more tries in the second term.
Leading the charge in the absence of injured captain-coach Doug Hewitt, Seager was brilliant through the middle.
The Dave Scott medalist paved the way for his side's new-look backline and with Willie Wright pulling all the right strings new faces like Murray and Murphy shone, the former providing Panthers' right edge with some serious potency.
Seager said the plan in 2019 hasn't changed after a hugely successful run to the title last winter, although he's acutely aware the task has been made tougher carrying the premiers tag.
"We've got that target on our backs now being premiers but we're ready for it and hopefully we can go again," Seager said.
"It was pretty scrappy but we got the win. We've got a fair few new boys in there this year, we'll take time to mould but we'll be there, we'll be right."
He capped last year's competition with a sideline conversion to win the title and this year Wright opened the scoring, slicing through to score the first try of the 2019 Group 10 season.
Rangy winger Murphy, new lock Max Gay and Western Rams representative Jed Betts each got on the board in the opening half as Panthers ran out to a 22-6 lead at the break.
That margin, though, was reduced five minutes into the new term when evergreen Bears recruit Steve Lane injected himself into the contest.
The mercurial five-eighth chipped ahead for himself on the half-way line then sped into the backfield, toed ahead his second kick and a flying Lhiam Burrell picked up the loose ball and scored a great Bears try, taking the score to 22-10.
Blayney butchered the ensuing kick-off though - the ball went dead forcing the Bears into a drop-out - and any wind they had in their sales after the Burrell try was dissipated swiftly.
Wright bagged his brace shortly after while Murray, Josh Rivett and Elijah Sharwood scored to help Panthers notch up win number one in 2019, albeit a far from polished performance.
"We wanted to hold on to the ball but we couldn't and that killed us a bit," Seager added.
"But up the middle, that's where our strengths are and we just get it going forward so Willie and Trenty Hotham can play off the back of that."
Blayney backrower Ryan Oborn said the Bears would look to build on what was a fairly solid opening half.
"It wasn't too bad for us considering the boys were up against the premiers and it's still only round one so it's not too bad," he said.
"But there's definitely a lot room to improve, especially with our defence. We will work on it."
- BATHURST PANTHERS 44 (Willie Wright 2, Kevin Murray, Louis Murphy, Max Gay, Jed Betts, Josh Rivett, Elijah Sharwood tries; Willie Wright 6 goals) def BLAYNEY BEARS 10 (Lhiam Burrell, Chris Shephard tries; Steve Lane goal)
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