Edwards firming for fullback nod over Watene-Zelezniak
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Edwards firming for fullback nod over Watene-Zelezniak

Dylan Edwards is set to get the nod over Dallin Watene-Zelezniak to start the NRL season as Penrith's fullback as Ivan Cleary closes in on solving one of his first big selection conundrums.

Edwards, who played only eight games last year before suffering a serious shoulder injury, is poised to win back the No.1 he wore to start 2018 despite Dallin Watene-Zelezniak being a revelation in the role for the Panthers.

Back in black: Dylan Edwards.

Back in black: Dylan Edwards.Credit:AAP

Ironically, an interrupted pre-season for Watene-Zelezniak, which forced him to miss the All Stars game with a knee injury, is believed to have tipped the balance in Edwards' favour for the round-one clash against Parramatta.

The fullback spot loomed as one of two contentious issues for Cleary on his return to the Panthers, along with the hooking role, where Sione Katoa and Wayde Egan vying for the No.9 jersey.

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On the Edwards and Watene-Zelezniak battle, Nathan Cleary said: "I think Dyl will have that fullback spot locked down because Dal has been injured and is just coming back now. We've had a lot of reps with Dyl and he was obviously the fullback to start off last year.

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"That hooking role, there's a good battle going on. I think no matter who gets put in there will do a good job."

Cleary snr will be at the helm of Penrith for the first time since his controversial off-season switch from the Tigers when the Panthers play the Rabbitohs in a trial at Redfern Oval on Saturday. The match will double as a testimonial match for South Sydney veteran John Sutton.

Nathan Cleary is unlikely to take part in the match. Instead he will be held back for Penrith's final trial against the Eels at Panthers Stadium, just a fortnight before the sides clash against each other in their first match of the season.

The Panthers sweated through an exhausting session at their $22 million academy on Monday afternoon as temperatures climbed into the high 30s before Cleary jnr confirmed another early finals exit would be an unacceptable result in 2019.

Penrith have tripped up in the second week of the finals for three straight years.

We've been to the second week of the finals three years in a row now and there's a hunger to go further.

Nathan Cleary

"I'm striving for more with Penrith," Cleary said. "It was awesome to win the shield with the Blues, but we've been to the second week of the finals three years in a row now and there's a hunger to go further. We need to play better footy to get there.

"I think especially last year we had the talent and team to go further, but we didn't put it together [in] the last game against the Sharks. That hurt a lot and left a hunger to kind of get better this year. It's just words at the moment and we've got to show in our actions on the field."

Cleary and his NSW halves partner James Maloney will switch defensive posts this year in a bid to stiffen their side's defence. Cleary is set to man the left-hand side alongside Viliame Kikau and Waqa Blake, while Maloney will be shadowed by Isaah Yeo and Dean Whare.

"I think Dad came up with us watching last year and he wanted to try something new," Cleary said.

"The thing I like about dad is he's not the headmaster style of coach, he's pretty understanding and works through everything with you. If you do bump heads on things there's always a solution that comes out of it. That's been a good thing."

Adam Pengilly is a Sports reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald.

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