The Gold Coast withstood a dramatic Parramatta fightback after racing out of the blocks to record their 11th win of the season and all but secure a maiden finals berth.
Expected to easily account for their lowly opponents, the Titans had little trouble notching up early points as they raced to a 14-0 lead within the opening 10 minutes through converted tries to Luke Bailey and Chris Walker and a controversial penalty goal to captain Scott Prince.
Bailey was the beneficiary of a clever grubber from Prince that bounced off the upright and away from the converging Parramatta defence just two minutes into the match.
Five minutes later Eels winger Krisnan Inu was penalised for knocking Prince down off the ball, the Gold Coast captain having no trouble giving his side an 8-0 lead in as many minutes.
And from the next set the Titans raced downfield again thanks to a brilliant offload from Mat Rogers, before a sweeping backline move saw Walker dive over out wide.
But just when it looked like a rout was imminent, the Eels suddenly found their feet and Joe Galuvao gave them hope when he crashed through a Nathan Friend tackle to plant the ball over the line.
Only some poor finishing saved the home side from leaking more points soon after until Rogers shanked a cross-field bomb straight into the waiting arms of Inu, who raced clear before sending Daniel Mortimer away.
Incredibly, Inu completely fluffed his conversion for the second time and the Titans led 14-8 at the break.
The second half became a war of attrition, with Eric Grothe closing the gap to two points with a try out wide after 48 minutes, but the Eels couldn’t capitalise on a glut of possession – David Mead’s 69th-minute try enough to ensure the Gold Coast hung on while Parramatta can now star planning for 2010.
The Game Swung When… Joe Galuvao bounced off Nathan Friend to score in the 24th-minute. Until that moment it looked like the Gold Coast would win by 60, but Galuvao’s try changed the momentum and the Eels dominated much of the game from that moment.
Who Was Hot… Despite the horrible cross-field kick that gifted Parramatta a try late in the first half, Mat Rogers was a real handful in attack and played a major role in tries to Chris Walker and David Mead. Luke Bailey was also at his tireless best.
For the Eels Nathan Hindmarsh, Fuifui Moimoi and Eric Grothe all tried hard going forward.
Who Was Not… It was a night to forget for Krisnan Inu, who not only appeared sluggish when given room to move but also made some baffling decisions with the ball in hand – namely when he wrapped around the short-side early in the tackle count only to be bundled into touch. He also produced two of the worst conversion attempts seen this year, one of them from right alongside the posts.
Had To Be Seen To Be Believed… Rogers’ cross-field kick to gift Parramatta a try was completely out of character for the Titans veteran. Aiming to find Walker on the right wing, the ball instead came off the side of his boot and straight into the arms of an unmarked Krisnan Inu. Inu raced downfield before finding Daniel Mortimer on the inside who beat two defenders to the line to score.
Refs Watch… The decision by Steve Lyons to penalise Inu for a soft hit on Scott Prince wasn’t well received by Eels fans but he and Matt Cecchin were relatively quiet for the remainder of the game.
NRL.com Best & Fairest… 3 points – Mat Rogers (Titans): Heavily involved throughout the game and played a major role in two of the Gold Coast’s three tries; 2 points – Luke Bailey (Titans): Worked himself to a standstill with 24 tackles and 130 metres to his name as well as a rare try; 1 point – Nathan Hindmarsh (Eels): A typically busy performance that saw him make 44 tackles and run for 122 metres.
Titans 18 (L Bailey, C Walker, D Mead tries; S Prince 3 goals) def Eels 12 (J Galuvao, D Mortimer, E Grothe tries) at Skilled Stadium. Crowd: 14,840.