It’s not just the soaring summer temperatures in western Sydney putting the heat on Penrith playmakers Jamie Soward and Peter Wallace this pre-season.
New Zealand whiz kid Te’Maire Martin is applying the blow torch to the veteran pair for a round one NRL starting spot – and his threat to their jobs is real.
He has earned rave reviews from his teammates since moving to the foot of the mountains from the Wests Tigers, and the Kiwis under-20s halfback is pushing the former NSW Origin playmakers all the way.
Soward and Wallace are both returning from injury and working their way back to full fitness while Martin continues to impress.
Soward, 31, had off-season back surgery and Wallace, 30, is coming back from an ACL tear that threatened to end his career.
Neither is likely to play in next month’s Auckland Nines meaning Martin will probably be given licence to run the side during the abbreviated format tournament, giving fans their first look at the 20-year-old.
Soward had no hesitation predicting Martin will be successful and admitted he was putting pressure on him to keep his position.
“There’s no doubt he’s got a long NRL career ahead of him,” Soward said.
“He’s still learning the game but the thing about Te’Maire is he’s very open and wanting to learn and he’s not afraid to tell the older guys how to get around the park which is important for a young halfback.
“I’m sure he’ll be putting pressure on me and Wal to start the season.”
After being plagued by injury the past two years, Wallace is entering the final season of his contract with the Panthers.
While confident he will play on in 2017, though unsure where, he is under pressure to hold his spot because of the emergence of Martin and with fullback Matt Moylan tipped to move into the halves over the coming seasons.
With his future anything but assured, Wallace said he was being driven by those who are predicting he is washed up after undergoing surgery on his right knee two years in a row.
“There’s a lot of doubters who say you can’t come back from something like this but that makes you determined,” Wallace said.
“Those are the things you keep in your head and are a driving factor but at the end of the day I want to perform for my club.”