The injury-ravaged Panthers will play host to the Gold Coast Titans this Sunday as they look to solidify their place in the top four and confirm their status amongst the top performers over the first 5-6 weeks of the 2018 season.
The Panthers come into week six of the season with four wins and just a shock loss to the Bulldogs on their report card while the Titans are also flying high following shock wins over the Broncos and Sea Eagles in back-to-back weeks.
Amongst the consort travelling down from the Gold Coast, the Titans boast a handful of faces very familiar around the Penrith area with Michael Gordon, Mitch Rein, Bryce Cartwright, Leilani Latu, Ryan Simpkins and even first-year head coach Garth Brennan having spent time at the Panthers.
Battered but not beaten, the Panthers will be without a plethora of NRL-quality talent as Tyrone May (ACL), Tim Browne (Bowel), Dallin Watene-Zelezniak (Jaw), Waqa Blake (Ankle), Nathan Cleary (Knee) and Sam McKendry (ACL) all take up space on the touchline and in the casualty ward.
The Titans are enjoying the rise and rise of young halfback Ash Taylor. Long-tipped to be a future superstar of the code, Taylor represents the driving force behind a side slowly adding weapons and talent around him.
On the fringe, boom-winger Phillip Sami has come on strong in 2018, managing 4 line breaks and as many tries in his first five games, making him the sort of player who could put the Titans into a winning position against the Panthers on Sunday.
2017 – Round 20 – Penrith Panthers 24 def. Gold Coast Titans 16 at Panthers Stadium
2016 – Round 25 – Penrith Panthers 15 def. Gold Coast Titans 14 at CBUS Super Stadium
2016 – Round 11 – Gold Coast Titans 28 def. Penrith Panthers 24 at Panthers Stadium
2015 – Round 7 – Gold Coast Titans 32 def. Penrith Panthers 6 at CBUS Super Stadium
2015 – Round 2 – Penrith Panthers 40 def. Gold Coast Titans 0 at Carrington Park (Bathurst)
The Penrith Panthers have had the better of the Panthers over the last five meetings between these two clubs, winning the last two encounters as well as a heavy early-season win three years ago when they slaughtered the Titans 40-0 in front of a packed house in Bathurst.
This pair only met once last season. The Panthers proved too good at home on the day, running out 24-16 winners. Two seasons ago, the second clash between the Panthers and Titans, played on the coast saw the visitors sneak home in a thriller 15-14 courtesy of a Matt Moylan field goal. With the former Penrith skipper now plying his trade in the shire, if this one ends up in another shoot-out, it could be James Maloney or Ash Taylor trading field goal attempts.
|Penrith Panthers||Gold Coast Titans|
|1||Dylan Edwards||Michael Gordon|
|2||Josh Mansour||Anthony Don|
|3||Isaah Yeo||Dale Copley|
|4||Dean Whare||Konrad Hurrell|
|5||Christian Crichton||Phillip Sami|
|6||Tyrone Peachey||Kane Elgey|
|7||James Maloney||Ash Taylor|
|8||Trent Merrin||Jarrod Wallace|
|9||Peter Wallace||Nathan Peats|
|10||Reagan Campbell-Gillard||Max King|
|11||Viliame Kikau||Kevin Proctor|
|12||Corey Harawira-Naera||Will Matthews|
|13||James Fisher-Harris||Jai Arrow|
|14||Wayde Egan||Mitch Rein|
|15||Kaide Ellis||Morgan Boyle|
|16||Moses Leota||Bryce Cartwright|
|17||James Tamou||Jack Stockwell|
|18||Jarome Luai||Leilani Latu|
|19||Nick Lui-Toso||Keegan Hipgrave|
|20||Sione Katoa||Ryan Simpkins|
|21||Jack Hetherington||Tyronne Roberts-Davis|
The facts that matter
Playing at home, simply put, the Panthers must win this game to quieten any doubters and confirm their contention for a top-four berth this season.
The wins have come for the Panthers so far in 2018 but they have made life difficult for themselves on more than one occasion and will need to avoid giving up big starts and having to run teams down.
If the Panthers get back to the level of performance that saw them demolish the North Queensland Cowboys 33-14 in Townsville earlier in the season, they will be in with a shout of beating any team in the league. If, however, they make the same sort of mistakes as they did when losing to the Bulldogs or narrowly avoiding defeat against the Eels last week, they’ll be a source of constant frustration again in 2018.
Overall though, the Panthers and head coach Anthony Griffin would consider their current standing, third behind the runaway Warriors and Dragons, as a positive and it has been one of the more promising starts to a campaign in recent memory at the foot of the mountains.
The Panthers do enter this week’s clash with the better overall record, having won 10 of the 16 games between the pair and six of the last eight.
With Waqa Blake the most recent Panther to succumb to injury, Isaah Yeo shifts from the back row into the centres as a safe, dependable option and, in all probability, a stronger defensive option on the fringes. Corey Harawira-Naera has been named in Yeo’s usual second row berth with possible debutant Kaide Ellis shuffled onto the bench in jersey #15.
As always though, the Panthers come with what I call the ‘Anthony Griffin caveat’ when it comes to the team sheet. Once the final team is named, it might be almost unrecognisable from the one named on Tuesday given Griffin’s penchant for shuffling his deck.
Gold Coast Titans
The Gold Coast team have enjoyed a tremendous rise in fortunes under new coach Garth Brennan and will be very keen to continue that trend against his former employer this weekend.
With a number of ex-Panthers amongst the Titans ranks, there could quite easily be a bit of feeling and niggle in this Sunday afternoon blockbuster.
One ex-Panther who joined the Titans over the off-season, Leilani Latu appears to have almost completely dropped out of favour on the glitter strip, once again named amongst the extended reserves with Jarrod Wallace and Max King preferred as the starting prop forwards and the sizeable Morgan Boyle and Jack Stockwell on the bench.
The Titans will also be without usual skipper Ryan James who has been suspended by the NRL judiciary and won’t return until next week.
With no James this week, there will be big expectations on the shoulders of lock Jai Arrow who has been incredibly impressive over the first few weeks of the season. Arrow put together a fine performance last week with two tries, 190m, nne tackle-breaks and 27 tackles against the Sea Eagles.
The Titans looked good in their win over the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles at Gladstone’s Marley Brown Oval last weekend. The 32-20 win was trumped only by the sight of first grade NRL football being played smack-bang in front of a Bunnings Warehouse and a Dan Murphy’s bottle shop. Rugby league truly is the game of the people.
The Titans have performed above expectations so far in 2018 but the Panthers have found a way to win in all but one week so far this season, so I have to lean toward the home side in this one.
Penrith 1-12 is the safe bet.
Will the Panthers keep their winning run alive, or will the Titans cause yet another upset? Let us know in the comments below.