Penrith captain Kevin Kingston says the Panthers know they can't expect to beat Gold Coast at Centrebet Stadium on Sunday if they repeat what he described as their "embarrassing"' defensive effort against South Sydney last weekend.
Despite playing at home, the Panthers trailed 34-16 at halftime against the Rabbitohs. They were much better in the second half, and actually fought back to be just two points down before Souths scored the last two tries in a 44-32 win.
Penrith only conceded 10 points at home in their first-round win over Canberra, scoring 32 themselves, but have since conceded a whopping total of 72 points in back-to-back losses to Wests Tigers, 28-18 at Campbelltown Stadium, and Souths.
Those sorts of returns will put the Panthers in the wooden spoon zone if they don't tighten up significantly, and they will be severely tested by a Gold Coast outfit that has started the season very well.
The Titans are defending strongly, having conceded just 26 points in their three games. Two of those games were against other strong defensive sides – Cronulla, which they lost, 12-10, and Manly, which they won, 16-14. In their only game against a loose defensive side, they whipped Canberra 36-0.
Kingston said the accent at training during the week had been on working harder to hold the opposition out.
"We've put a bit more focus on defence," he said. "We want to make our home ground a fortress, but we were embarrassing in the first half against Souths. Our defence was better in the second half, but to concede 44 points on our home ground... we can't be even remotely happy with that.
"Our attack is a different story. It's been improving every week, and it was a big effort to force our way back into the game in the second half against Souths. We were a chance to win it in the last 10 minutes. But we've obviously got to get the balance right in our game."
Gold Coast are one of the form teams in the competition. They competed hard on the road against a strong Cronulla side in Round 1, blew the Raiders away, and then established a good lead before having to fight to survive a rear-guard action from the Sea Eagles.
"Even in the game they lost, they were pretty impressive," Kingston said. "They're going to be very hard to beat. They're a bit like the Bulldogs with their playing style. They've got a lot of skilful forwards who like to pass the ball.
"When you look at their team, they've got class players all over the place. Greg Bird, Jamal Idris and William Zillman are just a few, and they're using their hookers – Matt Srama and Beau Falloon – very well in tandem. You've got to be impressed by the way the Titans are going."
Representative star Bird is one of the standout players in the competition so far this season.
He has played the full 80 minutes at second row in all three games, and run for well over 100 metres in each of them. His total run metres are 429, at an average of 143 per game. Bird also has six offloads and two line-breaks.
But the challenge to stop Bird from making an impact is just one of many the Panthers face, and they are going to need to play at or close to their peak in the forwards to give themselves a chance of winning on Sunday.
Penrith's international pair of props – Australia's Tim Grant and New Zealand's Sam McKendry – will be key players in that regard. Grant has played an average of 48 minutes per match this season, for a total of 348 metres at an average of 116 per match. He has made 76 tackles and two offloads. McKendry has played an average of 46.3 minutes per match, for a total of 371 metres at an average of 123.6. He has made 66 tackles and five offloads, and also had one line-break.
"It doesn't get any easier in this competition," Kingston said. "Every week, there's another big test, and it's the same for every team. That's why it's the best competition in the world."