Penrith have knocked Gold Coast off the top of the ladder with a 14-12 win at Sportingbet Stadium on Sunday evening, in a match that proved testy - at one point, literally.
In a bizarre late incident, Panthers second-rower Sika Manu accused Greg Bird of "grabbing my nuts", with replays backing the Penrith player's angry reaction without proving intent from the Titans co-captain, who was making a tackle around the waist. Bird also had a running battle with Panthers halfback Peter Wallace for most of the night.
But in front of a healthy crowd of 9555 it was the home side who had the last laugh, reclaiming their spot in the top eight, with a penalty goal from five-eighth Jamie Soward in the 50th minute the only difference.
The Panthers were in control from the outset, drawing first blood on a simple left to right shift in the seventh minute that ended with centre Dean Whare whizzing past opposite centre Maurice Blair. Jamie Soward added the extras from the sideline and the home side had the early 6-0 lead.
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Former Titan Jamal Idris clearly came out with a point to prove against his old team, making a number of incisive runs on drop passes on the left edge, while Wallace got some extra attention from Bird as he came up with a number of half-breaks on the right. The Panthers co-captain duly came up with a big blow in the 30th, having a major hand in his side's second try.
In one of the more bizarre four-pointers you'd see this season, Wallace split the Gold Coast defence and offloaded to halves partner Jamie Soward, whose intended grubber for Jeremy Latimore was spilt – first by Titans No.1 David Mead and then hooker Paul Carter – before falling into the path of Matt Moylan to score. Soward again converted, and the Panthers had all the momentum at 12-0.
But Carter – who redeemed himself with a try-saving tackle on Kevin Kingston four minutes later - came up with the perfect inside ball for prop Ryan James to crash over the line for their first try in the 37th minute. Aidan Sezer's conversion halved the deficit to 12-6 and that's the way it stayed at the main break.
Idris was again in the thick of it in the 50th minute when he was run off a Wallace bomb by Brad Takairangi – although it could've been worse for the visitors, who had a possible Soward try in the ensuing play denied by the video referee for knocking the ball out of a Gold Coast player's hands. Soward slotted over the penalty goal for Takairangi's hip-check and the Panthers were well in control at 14-6.
The surprise competition leaders finished the game stronglyand had a number of raids on the Panthers' goal-line in the last quarter of the match, including three straight sets that culminated in an Albert Kelly turnover in the 67th minute.
The match turned in the 75th minute when Manu was penalised for pushing Bird, claiming the Titans' co-captain had committed a squirrel grip in a tackle. The footage didn't look good, though gave no hint if there was genuine intent.
Sezer scored in the following set, pouncing on a Kelly grubber that Moylan failed to clean up in-goal, and setting up a grandstand finish.
Titans prop Matt White was put on report for a lifting tackle on Penrith lock Adam Docker in the 61st minute.Penrith Panthers 14
(Whare, Moylan tries; Soward 3 goals) defeated Gold Coast Titans 12
(James, Sezer tries; Sezer 2 goals) at Sportingbet Stadium. Crowd: