Panthers rookie Crichton settled ahead of NRL debut

Penrith Panthers coach Anthony Griffin has confirmed Christian Crichton will make his NRL Telstra Premiership debut for injured winger Dallin Watene-Zelezniak in Friday night's clash with the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs at ANZ Stadium.

A St Mary's junior, Crichton is the latest local player to be blooded at the foot of the mountains as the Panthers aim for their best start to a season since 1997.   

The 21-year-old was born in Samoa but moved to Sydney as a teenager and came through Penrith's junior systems alongside the likes of Nathan Cleary, Tyrone May, Dylan Edwards and James Fisher-Harris.

"Christian has done a good job over the pre-season and trialled well so it's helpful for the team he's had that experience, so he'll get his chance tomorrow night," Griffin said on Thursday.

Crichton told NRL.com recently he would find it comfortable slotting into the first grade line-up when his chance came along.

"We've all played together so know how we all play," Crichton said.

"It's not like I'll be playing with a whole new group so should slip right in. We've got that here at Penrith where we teach the same across all three grades so if you do get a call up it's not a whole new thing we're learning. Hook teaches us all the same thing."

Crichton has rubbed shoulders with Test wingers Watene-Zelezniak and Josh Mansour over the pre-season and had a goal of ensuring he was the next cab off the rank should a player be struck with injury throughout the club's two trials.

"I love it, it pushes us all but I'm trying to push them," Crichton said.

"My whole game I'm trying to get better. I'm lucky because I've got Dal (Watene-Zelezniak) – international Kiwi player, and Sauce (Mansour) – international Australian player. I just pick off them because they've played so much footy.

"They've obviously been there and done it but it's good to have people around you. I like to do different stuff. Sauce and Dallin do different things but I like to take the tough carries and just do my job whether it be finishing or getting the set started."

Panthers fullback Dylan Edwards said Crichton had worked hard to become the Panthers' next best option for Griffin following a series of departures in the backline in recent seasons.

"He's a really strong ball runner and a good finisher … a typical winger really," Edwards said.

"He's not the tallest bloke but has got a good jump in him. I've got confidence in him to do the job. I'll try and help him about a bit, he's more than capable enough."

The Bulldogs are desperate to avoid being 0-3 to begin the year under new coach Dean Pay after falling to heavyweight sides the Melbourne Storm and Sydney Roosters in the opening two rounds.

"They haven't been too far off the past couple of weeks," Edwards said.

"Obviously Melbourne and the Roosters are premiership favourites. They've competed until the end and I don't think the scores have reflected how the games have gone.

"Their middle of Woods and Klemmer, and little men like Foran and Mbye are dangerous so we certainly won't be taking them lightly."