Matt Encarnacion, Western Sydney Correspondent, NRL.com
Panthers v Titans
Monday, 7.00pm (AEST)
Sometimes, if you're unlucky, you'll blink in this dog-eat-dog competition and you'll miss some history-making stuff. Easter Monday combatants Gold Coast and Penrith were game-changing revelations last week, but for very, very different reasons.
The Titans, as we all know, are still competition leaders. And for the second week in a row, they do so with a negative points differential, meaning they're winning the competition despite their opponents scoring more points than them. Figure that one out.
And hey, if you reckon you're smart enough to figure that out, then you're on a par with the individual who picked the party-strip club to win five of their opening six – including last week's 12-8 thieving win over the neighbours Brisbane at the death.
We all know about their decorated forward pack – Nate Myles, Greg Bird, David Taylor, Ashley Harrison and Luke Bailey all tipped the 100-metre mark last week – but five-eighth Aidan Sezer is going toe to toe with Melbourne game-closer Cooper Cronk in terms of late-game heroics. His stealing of the ball –and a victory – from the clutches of Brisbane's money man Ben Barba was the turning point of the game.Titans veterans playing for future
Bailey will be missing from this clash with an ankle injury and is replaced in the 17 by Ryan James. William Zillman has been added to an extended bench so could be a late inclusion, which could mean David Mead returns to the wing and Anthony Don misses out.
But while Gold Coast are defying the laws of rugby league gravity by recording fewer points than their opposition, Panthers were re-writing history too – only they were on the other side of it.Stats say Titans should be in trouble
They went into the history books as the team South Sydney veteran Nathan Merritt scored his 145th try for the club, breaking Benny Wearing's 81-year record as most tries.
Penrith also reportedly became the first team to not force a missed tackle over the opening hour of a rugby league game. The home side went back to bad habits last week, going side to side in search of an opening, and were turned away time and again. Just one change to their 17 also, with Tyrone Peachey coming in for Lewis Brown (pectoral injury).
Let's see who makes history on Monday night.
Watch Out Panthers: Titans fullback David Mead is hotter than a New Year's Eve celebration on Cavill Avenue. The winger-turned-glorious match-winner ran for 269 metres andmade two line breaks. Not only has he almost single-handedly turned the competition table upside down, but he's sending the Holden NRL Fantasy world haywire too. He's had a few shots in the No. 1 jumper over the last couple of years, but last week's breakout just might've shut the door on his career as a wingman.
Watch Out Titans: Turns out Jamal Idris wasn't bluffing when he told his old club he'd be a happier person at home in Sydney. The former Titan has been one of Penrith's most consistent threats in his five games this season. To date, the one-time Origin representative has numbers of eight offloads, 17 tackle breaks, and an average of over 100 metres gained per game. He's being handed plenty of early ball and, as he said this week, is primed for the only game he circled on his NRL calendar.
Plays To Watch: As we noted early, the Panthers were left frustrated by a defence that thwarted their side-to-side attack, so coach Ivan Cleary will have altered their game plan in the opposition red zone during the week. Expect some more direct action – inside passes and drop-offs for their second-rowers and big men.
The Titans, meanwhile, have built their resurgence on their ability to keep the ball alive. With a competition-high 78 offloads – Greg Bird leads the way with 11 – off-the-cuff football is the name of the game under coach John Cartwright. Penrith need to keep on their toes.
Where It Will Be Won: The conditions. Or, more specifically, which side is best suited to the conditions. For the first time three weeks, Penrith will supposedly be rain-free for Easter Monday, but any greasy conditions could wreak havoc with either side's ability to play with the ball. The Panthers learned the hard way last week when they didn't adjust to the rain, and how they approach on Monday could decide the game.
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The History: Played 9; Panthers 5, Titans 4. Gold Coast were comprehensive 28-10 winners at Penrith in Round 4 last year but the Panthers got one back – in Darwin, of all places – where speedy winger James Roberts burnt plenty of turf on his way to a hat-trick in a 40-18 win. Ironically, Roberts was sacked by the Panthers earlier this year for numerous indiscretions and has now found a home with the Titans.
What Are The Odds: Again another upset is tipped here, with more than five times the money coming for the Titans ($2.25) over Penrith ($1.68) with Sportsbet.com.au.
Match Officials: Referees – Gavin Morris & Gavin Reynolds; Touch judges – Jeff Younis & Luke Potter; Video Referees – Steve Chiddy & Ben Galea.
Televised: Foxsports 1 – Live 7pm (AEST).
The Way We See It: We hate to boast, but we've managed to pick the past two games involving Penrith – a 1-12 win over the Raiders before a 13+ loss to the Rabbitohs. The Panthers haven't won consecutive games this year, but they haven't lost any either. Penrith by four points.