Greg Prichard,, NRL.com
Titans v Panthers
TIO Stadium, Darwin
Saturday, 7pm (7.30pm AEST)
The Titans have a lot of making up to do after their woeful performance against the Knights last weekend. They were beaten 46-16 at Hunter Stadium, but it looks even worse when you consider they were down 36-0 at halftime. The Knights took their foot off the pedal towards the end of the game and the Titans snatched a couple of cheap tries.
This is a Titans home game the club has taken to Darwin. Hopefully, for them, they will have better luck with the result than the Roosters did when they took a home game to the same venue last season. They were thrashed, 50-12, by a Cowboys outfit that was much more used to playing in a tropical climate.
The Titans are fifth on the competition table with 18 points, just one point behind the fourth-placed Sea Eagles, but they haven’t managed to get on a real roll at any stage. They won three in a row from Rounds 2-4, but have mostly been up and down with their form. Their win-loss record of 8-7 sums them up pretty well.
The ninth-placed Panthers, with a 6-8 record, have obviously had their ups and downs as well, but after losing five straight from Rounds 2-6 they have done pretty well to win five of their past eight. And that is despite injury problems in the forwards, where one starting prop, Sam McKendry, is still out, and the other, Tim Grant, only returned from a broken hand last weekend.
The Panthers are coming off a 25-10 win over the Dragons, whom they have beaten twice this season. Coach Ivan Cleary has them playing to a structure that takes advantage of their strengths and at least minimises the opportunity for opposition teams to take advantage of their weaknesses. When they stick to the game plan, they are hard to beat.
First-game rookies Jahrome Hughes and Hymel Hunt come in at fullback and centre respectively for the Titans, replacing the injured William Zillman and Jamal Idris. David Mead moves from centre to wing, with winger Anthony Don dropping to a six-man bench, and Luke O’Dwyer comes into the centres. Nate Myles returns at prop, with Luke Douglas dropping to the bench. The Panthers have an unchanged line-up.
Watch Out Titans: Grant would no doubt like to think he could be a chance of grabbing a spot in the NSW team for State of Origin III with a big performance against a Titans pack that includes Queensland prop Myles. Look for him to try to lead the way down the middle with a powerhouse performance.
Watch Out Panthers: When a team gets embarrassed, like the Titans were against the Knights, they are often stung into action the following week. The Titans should be expected to start the game with their intensity up, and the Panthers have got to make sure they are ready to match that.
Plays To Watch: Panthers fullback Matthew Moylan is a seven-game rookie who is still getting the hang of first grade, but the more experience he gets the better he understands halves Luke Walsh and Isaac John. He is starting to look for opportunities to run off their passes and kicks.
Titans halfback Albert Kelly is known for his speed and ability to spot a gap – he has eight line-breaks and 10 tries this season – but he also has a good offload. Teammates know to run with him, because he has managed to get the ball away 11 times this season.
Key Match-Up: Interesting clash in the centres, where the Titans will field veteran utility O’Dwyer, and Hunt, opposite Brad Tighe and Dean Whare. Tighe looked dangerous against the Dragons last weekend. He is going to test the defence of the Titans out wide.
Where It Will Be Won: The Titans can’t afford to be edged in the forwards. If they are, the Panthers will be able to get into position to put a lot of pressure on Hughes and Hunt, and that could be disastrous for the Titans. It’s up to Luke Bailey and Myles to lead the way for the Titans against a Panthers forward pack that has already damaged a few reputations among opposition teams this season.
The History: Played 8; Titans 4, Panthers 4. The Titans have won two of the past three clashes. This is their first meeting on a neutral venue.
Match Officials: Referees – Alan Shortall & Henry Perenara; Sideline officials – Adam Reid & Peter Gough; Video referees – Bernard Sutton & Neil Wharton.
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The Way We See It: Zillman and Idris both out is a huge blow for the Titans. This is a game where the Panthers can concentrate on securing the ball and trying to create situations in which Walsh can put pressure on the rookies the Titans have been forced to field. That suits the Panthers. They can keep gnawing away and get a win. Panthers by six points.