Neil Henry's fullback juggling act between Josh Hoffman and William Zillman proved a masterstroke as the pair both scored doubles in the Titans' 32-6 win over the Panthers at Cbus Super Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
The Panthers brought plenty of razzle to the Gold Coast but it was the Titans who finished with a dazzling 26-point win, the first time they had scored more than 30 points in consecutive weeks in close to two years after their 38-16 win over the Eels in Round 6.
Switching between left centre and fullback as they have done all season, Hoffman and Zillman were both brilliant in defence in the opening 40 minutes before cutting loose in the second, Zillman running for 271 metres from a host of scything long-range runs.
"Obviously we took a bit of confidence out of last week but at the same time if we'd come out today and turned it up then that all shatters that," said stand-in skipper Zillman. "To get two in a row and our first win at home I think we'll take a bit of confidence out of that.
"We did a lot of defence in the first half due to penalties and it took its toll on us. At half-time we were looking pretty tired but I felt the second half we did the same to them, held our possession a lot better and the tide turned."
A crowd of less than 10,000 were on hand to witness two teams intent on producing some enterprising football but it was a heavy injury toll and a stint in the sin-bin for Isaah Yeo that brought the Panthers' challenge undone.
"When we got to 12 men that was a significant change in the game," Panthers coach Ivan Cleary said post-game. "I thought we had plenty of chances, we dominated the start of the second half but we never ever got our game on today.
"Down to 12 men, they put couple of tries on and our spirits got dented a bit. All in all it was just a disjointed performance."
Both teams were dealt blows prior to kick-off with Nate Myles (calf) and Elijah Taylor (knee) late withdrawals and it got worse as the afternoon wore on.
Agnatius Paasi succumbed to a recurrence of his foot injury midway through the first half and Ryan Simpkins suffered a leg injury for the Titans while the Panthers had to do without both Josh Mansour (knee) and Brent Kite (lower leg) for the entire second half.
After a frantic first 40 minutes it was the Titans who seemed more intent to play a more conservative brand of football in the second half but despite numerous opportunities – some from long range – could only edge ahead via penalty goals to Aidan Sezer in the 62nd and 65th minutes.
Yeo was sin-binned for a professional foul in giving away the first penalty 20 metres out in front of the posts and an already under-manned Panthers outfit struggled to quell the Titans' charge with only 12 men.
The home side extended their lead to 14 points in the 68th minute when Ryan James latched onto a Sezer bomb 15 metres out and then found Luke Douglas in support on the inside. Although the big prop's eyes lit up at the prospect of a rare four-pointer he handed off to the NRL's leading try-scorer James Roberts for his eighth of the season.
Hoffman got his second for the day – and his second for the club – when he raced through on a Sezer grubber kick in the 75th minute and Zillman made it a double as well with an 80-metre effort with two minutes to play, Greg Bird adding the extras in his 100th game for the club.
In the first half both teams were guilty of treating the Steeden like a piping hot dim sim rather than cherishing possession, with the frequent offloads by the Panthers in particular regularly opening up the Titans through the middle.
James Segeyaro was relishing the opportunity to run at a defensive line finding time to set itself but it was Matt Moylan who was conducting the orchestra like only a 23-year-old maestro could.
In the fourth minute he took a bomb near his own tryline under plenty of pressure and then put his team straight on the attack courtesy of a quick tap that caught the Titans napping.
Three minutes later on the back of a repeat set he took the ball to the left, drew James Roberts out of his defensive line and handed Waqa Blake a saloon passage to score the opening try of the game, Moylan adding the conversion from wide out.
With neither side showing any interest in reverting to a percentage brand of footy, it was another young gun who then stepped up with Kane Elgey laying on two tries for the Titans.
Having come close to scoring himself in the 13th minute, Elgey punished the Panthers for an error coming out of their own end by squeezing a grubber kick through the legs of Sika Manu close to the line for William Zillman to race through and score his second try in as many weeks.
Eleven minutes later it was Josh Hoffman who was the beneficiary of some Elgey sleight of hand. On the back of an enterprising piece of play that saw Ryan James tackled 12 metres out from the Panthers line, Elgey tried his luck on the left on the last tackle and found Hoffman charging onto a well-timed inside pass to crash over and put the Titans in front.
On the back of three quick penalties the Panthers threatened to add to their tally late in the half but when some desperate Titans defence frog-marched Moylan some 15 metres across the sideline they were able to preserve their 10-6 advantage into the break.
The Panthers will have injury concerns over Mansour, Kite and Segeyaro while Ryan Simpkins and Agnatius Paasi both failed to return to the field after suffering leg injuries.
Gold Coast Titans 32 (William Zillman 2, Josh Hoffman 2, James Roberts tries; Aidan Sezer 5, Greg Bird goals) def. Penrith Panthers 6 (Waqa Blake tries; Matt Moylan goal). Crowd: 9,244. Sin-binned: Isaah Yeo (Panthers, 61st).