On Saturday afternoon Peter Wallace will become the first Blue Mountains-raised player since Tom Eisenhuth in August 2012 to represent Penrith in the top grade when he runs onto Sportingbet Stadium to take on the Newcastle Knights.
It will be a special day for the Blaxland native, who returns from five seasons playing for the Brisbane Broncos to the club he debuted for in July 2005.
The 28-year-old, who represented NSW four times and was captain of the Broncos at one point before being benched in the back end of last season, told the Gazette he is enjoying a fresh start at Penrith and being part of a strong playing and coaching roster.
And in a nice surprise, Panthers head coach Ivan Cleary named him co-captain for season 2014 alongside Kevin Kingston.
“Kev and Pete are natural leaders and they have the combined respect of all the boys in the squad,” Cleary said on Monday.
Wallace said: “The club has changed a lot since I left at the end of 2007, but all in the right direction and it’s a credit to everyone involved.
“He’s [Cleary] been great, as has the whole coaching staff.
“It’s been a different kind of pre-season for me, moving clubs and playing in the World Cup [for Scotland], so I started training a bit later than most of the others.
“It’s been tough, intense training and we’ve put a lot of work into it, but I was given a couple of weeks off straight after the World Cup which did me a lot of good.
“I’m actually feeling pretty fresh right now and can’t wait for our first game against the Knights.”
The Panthers dominated Roosters’ feeder club Newtown Jets in their pre-season trial game on February 23, winning 52-4, with Wallace scoring a try, setting up a couple and kicking five goals.
But they know they’ll have to lift their game a few notches this Saturday.
Panthers assistant coach David Fairleigh said after the trial: “We felt we got a bit out of it, but there’s no doubt we certainly have to get better against the Knights, who are going to be a big challenge for us.
“Jamie Soward is back in training now and Wallace, Nigel Plum and Jamal Idris are all okay and fit to go for round one.”
Wallace said combinations are developing well between key players.
“Things are starting to gel and we’ve got a lot of depth all across the park and are playing a good style of footy, so it’s exciting coming to the start of a new season.”
The Panthers v Knights round one NRL game will kick-off at 4.30pm this Saturday at Sportingbet Stadium in Penrith.