Panthers in the pink for a crack at the NRL title

READY TO POUNCE: Bryce Cartwright.

OVER-achievers or genuine contenders?

The jury seems to be still out on Penrith which gained a measure of revenge by beating the Bulldogs 24-18 to open their 2015 campaign on Sunday.

The Panthers defied a horror injury toll last season to make the preliminary final, going down 18-12 to the Dogs to just miss what would have been their first grand final appearance since beating the Roosters to take the 2003 title.

One of the Penrith players who missed the prelim final with an ankle injury, back-rower Bryce Cartwright, said he was confident the team could prove the doubters wrong this season.

"Everyone's entitled to their own opinion, but we definitely want more respect," Cartwright told APN.

"The weekend proved we're doing some things right, and it was nice to get one back over the Bulldogs.

"We're all aiming to go even better this year."

Cartwright returned to the paddock on Sunday after overcoming an ankle injury, alongside Peter Wallace, Tyrone Peachey and Elijah Taylor who all missed the prelim final because of injuries.

Not only was he excited about playing again, Cartwright said he was feeling great physically after a solid pre-season that saw his weight jump from 106kg to 113kg.

"Our new strength and conditioner David Boyle has been amazing, and I feel a lot stronger now," the 20-year-old said.

While Cartwright said he would probably take a few rounds to hit top form, one Panther who hit the ground running against the Bulldogs was boom young winger Dallin Watene-Zelezniak.

The 19-year-old, who scored two tries on debut in the 12-6 win over the Raiders in round five last year, bagged another double against the Dogs to take his tally to nine from 11 games, showing everyone the talent Cartwright knew Watene-Zelezniak had.

"I grew up across the road from Dallin, played a lot of junior football with him, and from a young age I noticed he was capable of some special things," Cartwright said.

"He's going to be a great player, but he's also a great bloke."

Penrith's next assignment will be against the embattled Titans at Carrington Park in Bathurst on Saturday evening, with the Gold Coast side still missing several key players caught up in the cocaine scandal.

Despite that, Cartwright, the nephew of former Titans coach John Cartwright, said he expected a tough contest.

"A few things outside of football haven't been going well there, but they were unlucky on the weekend (losing 19-18 to the Tigers) and they'll give us a big battle," he said.

Topics:  bulldogs nrl

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