Titans prop Luke Douglas tries to bust the Panthers defence during their clash at Cbus Super Stadium on Saturday. Credit: Charles Knight Copyright: NRL Photos
Halfback Albert Kelly is suffering a crisis of confidence at the worst possible time for the Titans as he battles on with a leg injury and his side continues their free fall down the Telstra Premiership table.
Self-confessed dumb errors in the second half of their clash with the Panthers at Cbus Super Stadium on Saturday night gifted the visitors three tries and saw the Titans suffer a fourth straight defeat with their enigmatic halfback lacking his usual spark.
Kelly suffered a fracture to his left leg in their Round 8 win over the Wests Tigers and received on-field treatment against Penrith after copping a knock in the 17th minute and played on in obvious discomfort.
In the first five weeks of the competition Kelly ran for more than 100 metres in each game (with a top of 259m in Round 1) and scored five tries but ran for just 52m against Penrith and appeared a shadow of the player that had carried the Titans to the top of the table.
"It's obviously knocked about," co-captain Greg Bird said of Kelly's confidence. "He's not playing the razzle-dazzle football we were playing at the start of the year.
"I don't know whether that's off the back of the forwards not getting forward and getting momentum in our attack or the fact that he's coming off an injury but it's obvious that he's struggling with the confidence."
Kelly left the sheds with ice strapped to his left leg but coach John Cartwright said that going into the game he had been given a clean bill of health.
"He went into the game fine so I don't know the extent of any injury he copped today," Cartwright said. "I'll have to talk to the medical staff but he went into the game 100 per cent.
"When you lose games your confidence suffers and that's where we are at the moment. The last three games we've been there and thereabouts to win the game and doing all the hard things to win the game and in critical moments the other team's been better than us.
"I really don't think that scoreboard tonight was a true reflection of how the game was. It was pretty hard-fought and there were some dumb errors and often you don't get punished by points when you make some dumb errors but they punished us three times and come up with 18 points."
With five-eighth Aidan Sezer not expected back until the finals with a pectoral injury the Titans desperately need for Kelly to rediscover the magic, preferably before their Monday night clash with the Storm at Cbus Super Stadium in Round 14.
Both teams will be without their Origin representatives but Cartwright is conscious of the importance of the game in the context of which way their 2014 finals prospects head.
"It's a tough period this part of the year and we're going into it with our confidence down and no wins on the board," he said.
"One win can change your season around and we've got a game against Melbourne where both sides are going to be down on troops and it's a very important game in terms of where our season sits."
The Titans are 6-6 at the halfway point of the season and after winning five of their first six, Bird admitted that his side have failed to keep pace with the rest of the competition.
"Everyone's improved and I don't know whether at the start of the year we took it for granted that we were going to be one of the teams there at the end by winning a few games but we haven't improved. Everyone's gone past us at the moment," Bird said.
"We still won those games at the start of the year and they're on the board now and they can't take those points away from us but if we start falling behind too much now it's going to be too far at the end of the year."