Titans v Panthers Preview

Titans v Panthers
Skilled Park
Saturday, 5:30pm (AEST)

It’s a clash of the titans (literally) this week as the second-placed Panthers make their second ever visit to Skilled Park to battle with third-placed Gold Coast.

Both teams sit just under the table-topping Dragons on 10 points, slightly ahead of the rest of the competition, making this blockbuster bigger than the Titanic.

The Titans – who are likely to have skipper Scott Prince return to steer the ship this week (even though he’s not named) – were impressive last Monday night at ‘Fortress Brookvale’, withstanding a dominant Manly outfit 24-22. It came just two weeks after their 20-16 dismantling of the Storm in their previous game at home.

Former Penrith premiership winner Preston Campbell was his typical brave self, scoring a try, setting up another, and making five tackle busts and two line-breaks for the Titans last Monday night.

Second-rower Anthony Laffranchi (138 metres, 41 tackles) and Greg Bird (124 metres) were also outstanding against the Sea Eagles.

The Panthers, on the other hand, have clawed their way to second place on the back of a four-game winning streak, which included a stirring 26-18 triumph over the Wests Tigers last Saturday. Coach Matt Elliott seems to have instilled a new-found grit in his team this year, with his unit seemingly never out of any game so far in 2010.

Enigmatic second-rower Frank Pritchard (114 metres, two tackles breaks, a line-break and a try assist) showed glimpses of his devastating best, but it was the regular contributors – Petero Civoniceva (137 metres) and Lachlan Coote (two tries, 152 metres and six tackle-breaks) – who ensured Penrith enter this week with some of the hottest form in the competition.

Other than Nigel Plum (knee) and David Simmons (shoulder), Penrith are at a full strength, while Mat Rogers is still out for Gold Coast.

Watch out Titans: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! Even more so when stats show that the Titans have defused just 30 per cent of bombs this year.

Since that’s the case, William Zilllman and Preston Campbell are in for a torrid night from the man who seems to have the golden boot this year. Luke Walsh has tallied an amazing 13 try assists this year (1st in the NRL), with the majority of them contributing to Penrith’s 16 kicks from tries (1st in the NRL). Lachlan Coote (seven tries), Adrian Purtell (five) and Luke Lewis (four) will no doubt be putting plenty of pressure on whoever plays at fullback.  

Watch out Panthers: NSW hopeful Greg Bird is starting to warm into his role on the Sunshine strip. After a slow start to the year, the 26-year-old is relishing his role at five-eighth, racking up a healthy 116 metres a game, and a league-leading 18 offloads so far this year.

While the probable return of Scott Prince should ring alarm bells for the visiting team, it’s his partner-in-crime who will prove a handful no matter where he runs the ball.

Where it will be won:
For all the attacking prowess that’ll take the field on Saturday evening, the Titans and Panthers rank equal 14th in the number of line-breaks made this year. Whoever can make the most of their opportunities when they shift the ball could well be the team that comes out on top.

The history: Played 3; Panthers 2, Titans 1. An average 53 points have been scored in their clashes since Gold Coast’s inception in 2007, which means this will probably be a high-scoring affair.

The inaugural and only clash at Skilled Park was the only time the Titans tasted victory against the Panthers, with Matt Elliott’s men taking out the past two – including a 34-20 win at CUA Stadium last year.   

Conclusion:
The return of Scott Prince would provide a massive boost to the home side, which will be buoyed by their fighting win against the Sea Eagles last week.

Coach Cartwright told NRL.com after the manly win that he expected Prince to play, so weigh that up.

But they’ll be facing another confident team in the Panthers, who are looking unbeatable in the air. It’s a toss of the coin really, but the timely return of the Titans skipper would give them the “heads up”. Titans by 2.

Match officials: Referees – Jared Maxwell & Bernard Sutton; Sideline officials – Paul Holland & Grant Atkins; Video Referee – Tim Mander

Televised:  Fox Sports – Delayed 7:30pm (AEST).