A Penrith team mired in a coach-sacking sideshow travels north to tackle an inconsistent Gold Coast Titans outfit keen to inflict damage to a finals-bound opponent and finish a rough season on a good note this Saturday afternoon.
The Titans have had brief glimpses of good things across 2018 but, ultimately, their first year under rookie head coach Garth Brennan has been underwhelming to say the least so a win against his former employers would do wonders for Brennan and his troops.
For the visitors, there will be an over-riding need to get back to an on-field focus after the mid-week sacking of head coach Anthony Griffin. Caretaker Cameron Ciraldo is thought to be an outside chance of securing the gig long-term and will see the next four weeks and a finals campaign as the perfect shop window for his talents.
It will also be interesting to see how Penrith's players respond after Griffin aired further dirty laundry on Wednesday night's NRL360 on Fox Sports.
2018 - Penrith Panthers 35 def. Gold Coast Titans 12 at Panthers Stadium
2017 - Penrith Panthers 24 def. Gold Coast Titans 16 at Pepper Stadium
2016 - Penrith Panthers 15 def. Gold Coast Titans 14 at Cbus Super Stadium
2016 - Gold Coast Titans 28 def. Penrith Panthers 24 at Pepper Stadium
2015 - Gold Coast Titans 32 def. Penrith Panthers 6 at Cbus Super Stadium
Despite some indifferent form over the years against the Titans, Penrith have managed to come away with the spoils the last three times they've tackled the Gold Coast club and given the current positions of each club entering this Round 22 contest, they'll be confident of putting a bad week behind them and banking a handy pair of competition points.
Penrith notched a handy win against the Titans on home soil earlier this year thanks in part to a pair of four-pointers from wide-running back-rower Corey Harawira-Naera and exposing the fringes again this Saturday night could hold an interesting key.
|Gold Coast Titans||Penrith Panthers|
|1||Michael Gordon||Tyrone Peachey|
|2||Anthony Don||Josh Mansour|
|3||Konrad Hurrell||Waqa Blake|
|4||Brenko Lee||Dean Whare|
|5||Phillip Sami||Dallin Watene-Zelezniak|
|6||AJ Brimson||James Maloney|
|7||Ash Taylor||Nathan Cleary|
|8||Jarrod Wallace||James Tamou|
|9||Nathan Peats||Sione Katoa|
|10||Ryan James||Reagan Campbell-Gillard|
|11||Kevin Proctor||Viliame Kikau|
|12||Keegan Hipgrave||Isaah Yeo|
|13||Jai Arrow||James Fisher-Harris|
|14||Mitch Rein||Tyrone May|
|15||Moeaki Fotuaika||Trent Merrin|
|16||Jack Stockwell||Moses Leota|
|17||Will Matthews||Corey Harawira-Naera|
|18||Leilani Latu||Christian Crichton|
|19||Brendan Elliot||Jack Hetherington|
|20||Jai Whitbread||Kaide Ellis|
|21||Kane Elgey||Wayde Egan|
The facts that matter
Gold Coast Titans
How do you sit down and confidently pick a Gold Coast Titans game before the fact? Garth Brennan's first season as an NRL first grade head coach has been underwhelming and highlighted more by a need to work out which guys amongst the current crop fit the way he wants to play and his plans moving forward than plenty of good results.
Sitting in 12th position on the NRL ladder, the Titans have a four-point gap to the cellar-dwellars, but will be wary of getting overtaken by the Bulldogs and Sea Eagles should either of those sides manage a couple of wins between now and the end of the 2018 campaign.
The Titans looked magnificent in a 36-12 trouncing of the New Zealand Warriors two weeks ago, but any momentum and positive feeling they built on the back of that good performance in front of their home fans evaporated when they loss to the Parramatta Eels the following week.
Brennan's side has shown occasionally this year that they can match it with the better sides in the competition, but shock losses and horror performances like the one at ANZ Stadium last Saturday night have all too often undone the good work and set the side back.
The battle between the two coaches will also be interesting given the pair spent time mentoring the lower grades at Penrith together under Anthony Griffin and Brennan will be keen to see his old mate get off to a losing start in his NRL coaching career.
In team sheet news, fire-brand Keegan Hipgrave returns for the Titans, forcing Will Matthews to the bench. Jai Whitbread has moved back to the extended reserves.
They say a week is a long time in football, and that must be true given Penrith and Executive General Manager Phil Gould only parted company with head coach Anthony Griffin four days ago.
It has been an interesting week at Panthers HQ and with Cameron Ciraldo stepping in as head coach for the first time, ably assisted by former club captain Peter Wallace, it's tough to know just what to expect from Penrith when they hit the turf this Saturday afternoon.
There has not been much movement on the team list, which is understandable given Hook's departure was not down to his selection choices as it was seemingly about his philosophy and approach to using those players.
Penrith have also shown plenty of spirit and a determined willingness to fight to the death all season, most notably in their last two starts, against the Sea Eagles and Raiders respectively, in which they came from significant deficits to notch important wins.
With a fan-base set to order defibrillators in bulk before the finals, the Panthers could do their loyal supporters and themselves a favour by ditching the slow starts and building positive momentum early against a Titans side with little left to play for but pride at this stage of the season.
The Panther's come-from-behind win against the Raiders in their last start was their 13th such effort of the campaign.
Gus Gould suggested he would be available to assist new head coach Cameron Ciraldo and Peter Wallace as much or as little as they needed this week, so it will be interesting to see how things pan out after an interrupted and unique week on Mulgoa Road.
Trent Merrin may well be one player keen to impress his new gaffer after seemingly falling out of favour under Anthony Griffin. The veteran forward will celebrate his 200th NRL game this weekend.
Reagan Campbell-Gillard returns to the run-on side for Moses Leota in Penrith's only change.
New coach bounce? Players happy with an unpopular coach out the door? Young players throwing the ball round with reckless abandon after the shackles were taken off? Disgruntled players put in poor effort after coach sacking?
How in God's name do you sit down and pick this game with any certainty whatsoever?
Penrith have something to play for while the Titans are already looking forward to the end of season trip to Bali, so I'll have to take the visitors in this one.
My tip: Penrith 13+
How will the Panthers react in their first game post-Anthony Griffin? Let us know in the comments below.