Gold Coast Titans v Penrith Panthers
A promising run of good form for the Gold Coast came to a sudden end last Sunday when they fell to an under-manned Cronulla outfit, but they will be confident of quickly putting that performance behind them when they host strugglers Penrith at Skilled Park.
The Titans have been a tough side to pick so far in 2012 – last year’s wooden-spooners again struggling to live up to their potential before suddenly hitting their straps with three consecutive wins to rekindle their finals hopes.
However, if they are serious about their season ticking over into late September then they must take care of the Panthers this weekend.
That will certainly be the expectation of coach John Cartwright who welcomed a number of big-name signings – namely Jamal Idris, Nate Myles and Beau Champion – to the club at the start of the year and knows he has a squad that should be troubling the big guns.
Still, the return of their entire back row of Myles, Greg Bird and Ashley Harrison from State of Origin duty is significant and with veteran halfback Scott Prince impressing of late (they certainly missed his presence against the Sharks), another run of victories isn’t beyond them.
Penrith, on the other hand, simply need to salvage something from their rapidly crumbling season.
New coach Ivan Cleary didn’t promise the world when he arrived during the off-season but after a promising start the Panthers have offered little since. Like the Titans, they will welcome back key players from Origin duty this week in Luke Lewis, Tim Grant and Michael Jennings and the hope will be that they make headlines for their efforts on the field rather than off it: despite representing the Blues, Jennings hasn’t taken his place in the Penrith squad since he was dumped to NSW Cup a month ago while Lewis is known to be unhappy with Cleary’s decision to strip him of the captaincy for the duration of the rep season.
Can Penrith turn their own season around? The signs were certainly good when they upset premiers Manly three weeks ago but an untimely bye and a woeful second-half performance against the Warriors on Monday night has quickly ended any momentum they were building. They need to arrest the slide ASAP.
Cleary has made his presence felt again this week, dropping fullback Lachlan Coote, with Josh Mansour moving to fullback. Jennings returns at the expense of Geoff Daniela.
The Titans will be bolstered by the return of their Origin back-rowers while captain Scott Prince has also been named after withdrawing just hours before last week’s loss to Cronulla with back soreness.
Jamal Idris will no doubt be looking for another big performance after running for more than 100 metres last week for the first time since Round 2. He has fared well against Penrith in the past, with three tries from four games and an average five tackle-breaks.
His team-mate Mark Minichiello (209 games) requires just 37 more metres to reach 20,000 for his career.
Watch Out Titans: Penrith five-eighth Travis Burns has been at the heart of most of their successful attacking raids this season and again looms as the man most likely to dismantle the Gold Coast defence. Burns has produced a team-high six try assists and eight line-break assists, as well as making five line-breaks, scoring five tries and adding 30 tackle-breaks.
Danger Sign: Errors have been the Titans’ Achilles heel this season. Their 169 errors so far in 2012 is the most by any side in the Telstra Premiership and an area they will need to address over the back half of the season. A total of eight Titans players have made 10 errors or more this season, with William Zillman’s 13 the most by any player.
Watch Out Panthers: Penrith must defend their edges strongly because the Titans heavily favour scoring out wide. In 2012, they have scored 23 tries out wide and just six in the middle of the field. Notably, the Panthers have struggled to defend in those very same areas, with 21 tries conceded on their left and 16 on their right.
Danger Sign: The Panthers have struggled all year to turn field position into points, having crossed just 16 times when attacking inside the opposition 10-metre line. Only Canterbury have scored fewer from close range, although the Bulldogs happen to be the kings of the long distance try with 27 scored from further than 20 metres out. Penrith, meanwhile, have scored just 38 tries all season.
Nate Myles v Tim Grant: These two workaholic front-rowers renew their Origin rivalry just days after turning out for Queensland (where Myles packed down in the second row) and NSW respectively. Key members of their sides’ forward packs, Myles has averaged 112 metres and 25 tackles for the Titans in 2012 while Grant has averaged 146 metres up front for Penrith.
Where It Will Be Won: In the halves. Creativity has been a problem for both the Titans and Panthers this season, with the Gold Coast scoring just 35 tries (better only than St George Illawarra) and Penrith 38. Whichever side starts to find some rhythm in their attack this Sunday will go a long way towards taking the two competition points.
The History: Played 5; Panthers 3, Titans 2. Penrith hold a 2-1 advantage at Skilled Park. Other than a 24-22 win to the Gold Coast in their first ever meeting in 2008, these two rarely play a close game – three of their five matches have been decided by exactly 14 points.
The Last Time They Met: Penrith scored an emphatic 23-10 victory at this very same venue in Round 13 last year thanks largely to a glut of second-half errors from the home side.
The Titans actually began the better of the two sides with David Mead leaping highest to score from a Scott Prince bomb after just five minutes and despite falling behind through tries to Michael Jennings and Kevin Kingston in the 14th and 24th minutes, scores were level just moments after the half-time break thanks to some Preston Campbell magic.
Campbell grubbered in behind the defensive line and then toed the ball ahead again, the diminutive playmaker winning the race to touch down centimetres inside the dead-ball line.
Unfortunately, the Titans’ joy was short lived.
Fumbling their way to a 50 per cent second-half completion rate, the Gold Coast’s resolve was broken after 54 minutes when Petero Civoniceva burst through to send Adrian Purtell away. Luke Walsh made it a seven-point game when he calmly slotted a 72nd-minute field-goal. And Penrith put the icing on the cake when Luke Walsh chipped over the top and Travis Burns gathered in the scraps to make it 23-10.
The Titans completed just 26 of 41 sets for the game and missed 40 tackles to 24.
Winger David Simmons ran for 185 metres and made five tackle-breaks for the visitors while Gold Coast forward Ashley Harrison worked hard in making 47 tackles.
Match Officials: Referees – Gerard Sutton & Phil Haines; Sideline Officials – David Abood & Grant Atkins; Video Referee – Rod Lawrence.
The Way We See It: Ivan Cleary’s attempts to instill discipline and stamp his mark on the club have failed to produce results so far. This week it is fullback Lachlan Coote to feel Cleary’s wrath following his disastrous performance in the rain against the Warriors last week. The good news is that star centre Michael Jennings is back – but will it be enough? The Gold Coast were missing arguably their four most important players in last week’s loss to Cronulla and have been in pretty decent form for more than a month now so we can’t go past them to keep their finals hopes alive this week with a solid win. Titans by eight points.
Televised: Fox Sports 2 – Live 2pm.
*Statistics: NRL Stats