Hasler plays down Hopoate, Morris injuries

Canterbury could be without their top two fullbacks for their NRL season-opener against Manly after Will Hopoate limped off the field in his side’s 24-20 trial loss to Penrith.

Hopoate started at fullback in the absence of injured star Brett Morris, but hobbled from the field after falling awkwardly in a tackle just before halftime.

Bulldogs coach Des Hasler played down Hopoate’s knee concern after the match.

“It’s just a cork, he just jarred it, so we just pulled him off as a precaution. He played okay, it was just good to get everyone out there for 40 minutes,” he said.

Hasler also revealed Morris could be back for their season-opener, after initial reports had the NSW State of Origin star ruled out for the clash.

“We’re pretty sure he’ll start the season. It’s just a matter of maintenance,” he said.

Moses Mbye and Michael Lichaa joined Hopoate in helping the Bulldogs to a 14-0 lead inside the first half-hour, however Penrith youngster Te Maire Martin almost single-handedly stole the lead, then the show, with an eye-catching first outing.

The Wests Tigers junior made a strong first impression on his new fans, scoring a try and setting up two more, further pushing his case for what would be a remarkable rise into the NRL.

New Penrith captain Matt Moylan had a mixed 40-minute stint in his return from a long-term ankle injury, looking lively early at fullback, only to commit a simple error that led to Hopoate crashing over for first points.

He moved to five-eighth after the drinks break and was crunched by Greg Eastwood in one of his first forays in attack, taking a few minutes to regather himself before finishing out the half.

Panthers coach Anthony Griffin, who used almost his entire roster against the Bulldogs, revealed he was leaning towards keeping Moylan in the No.1 after a “patchy” stint at six.

“I’d probably leave him at fullback at the moment and just see how everyone else pulls up,” he said.

“He’s come back from a really bad ankle injury. He just needs some time on the field.”

Mbye looked at ease in his debut match as the first-choice No.7, touching the ball three times in the lead-up to the Dogs’ second try, while Lichaa showed some new power from dummy half for their third.

Veteran halfback Peter Wallace also came through unscathed in his return from a knee reconstruction.

But it was Martin who proved their most dangerous playmaker.

The Junior Kiwi showed elite speed in a 40m dash to the tryline, which followed James Segeyaro setting up Elijah Taylor from close range in a first half that ended with the visitors leading 14-12.

But it didn’t take long for Martin to steal the advantage after the break, laying on tries for Dallin Watene-Zelezniak and Chris Smith in the space of just three minutes before bowing out on the hour mark.

Bulldogs young gun Brad Abbey scored in the 68th minute to level the scores at 20-all, however AFL convert Josh Hall went over for the match-winner in the 79th.

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