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Panthers new boy set to shake things up

PENRITH coach Ivan Cleary didn't pump up rookie Will Smith's tyres before the unheralded 22-year-old's daunting NRL debut against the Bulldogs.

The former Newcastle junior (pictured), whose father Eddie was famous for his toughness and play-making skills in the Newcastle region, will debut for injured half Peter Wallace against victorious NSW Origin halves Trent Hodkinson and Josh Reynolds.

It's some first-up assignment. But asked about blooding the deceptively quick youngster against a pair of halves who led the Blues to the state's first State of Origin victory in nine years, Cleary played it cool, telling reporters to watch the kid play and make their own opinions.

It's a massive debut for Smith who'll have Panthers premiership-winning No.6 Jamie Soward close by to keep an eye on him.

His role will be kept as simple as possible.

But the Bulldogs will target him with their big-running forwards Tony Williams and Greg Eastwood and skipper Michael Ennis is sure to welcome him to the NRL with a few words.

Wallace's strength was his clean-up work in defence and his kick chase, along with his ability to share the decision-making with Soward - areas young Smith will have to grow into in the next six weeks with the Panthers a good chance of being part of finals action.

Penrith (3rd) and Bulldogs (4th) are both on 26 points so the winner will take outright third on the ladder with five games to go.


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