Schick Hydro Preview: Panthers v Titans
The great unveiling of new Titan Nathan Peats takes place less than 40 kilometres from where he was jettisoned as two teams coming off last-start victories look to generate some winning momentum.
The Panthers' win over the Warriors in Christchurch sees them searching for three successive wins for the first time this season while the Titans' upset of the Roosters broke a five-game losing streak that saw them spiral out of control down the ladder.
With James Segeyaro reinstated in the No.9 jersey this week Panthers coach Anthony Griffin has again shuffled his backline with Tyrone Peachey named in the centres and Isaah Yeo returning to the back row.
The inclusion of Peats is the most significant change for the Titans who are also without David Mead for as long as two months with a knee injury, his place on the wing taken by Nene Macdonald.
Peats has been named on the bench in jersey No.17 and it will be intriguing to see whether he can put the disappointment surrounding his departure from Parramatta behind him and be an immediate contributor to the Titans.
The great danger for a Titans team ranked third for most missed tackles is how they contain a Panthers side that leads the league in offloads, the likes of Peta Hiku, Bryce Cartwright and Trent Merrin all promoting the football at every opportunity.
With Jamie Soward and Peter Wallace providing the calming influence in the halves the talented young Panthers have the freedom to throw plenty of difficult questions at opposition defences. Last week was the first time they had scored 30 points in a game this season; the Titans can't afford to give them similar latitude.
Even through their run of losses the Titans showed tremendous fighting spirit and the improved execution of attacking plays against the Roosters will have given halves Tyrone Roberts and Ashley Taylor in particular a timely confidence boost.
Watch out Panthers: The battle of the benches is going to be a power-packed one on Sunday and while the Panthers boast plenty of punch via Suaia Matagi, Leilani Latu and James Fisher-Harris, the Titans have a game-breaker of their own in Agnatius Paasi. Used in the starting team early in the season, Paasi's contributions off the bench have been critical in the Titans arresting their slow starts and he was at it again against the Roosters on Monday night. His try before half-time – his third of the season – was the catalyst behind Gold Coast's 26-6 win and he finished the game with 159 metres, four tackle busts and two line breaks. He's strong and skilful and can swing momentum the way of the Titans in the blink of an eye.
Watch out Titans: No one seems to have yet worked out where to play Tyrone Peachey but coaches know that they are a more dangerous proposition when he is in the team. Two weeks ago he was promoted to the starting City Origin team off the bench and then shifted out to the centres following an injury to David Nofoaluma and then last week against the Warriors he started at hooker before scoring three tries playing in the centres. So what does Anthony Griffin do with him this week? Start him in the centres of course. Where he will pop up? Absolutely anywhere where there's an opportunity.
Key match-up: Trent Merrin v Greg Bird. New South Wales Origin teammates who thrive on the delivery of second-phase football to their support players shape as key influencers in what should be an entertaining contest. No team offloads the ball more per game than the Panthers with Merrin's 17 behind Peta Hiku (20) and Bryce Cartwright (19) but the Titans also don't mind promoting the football with Bird leading the way with 13. Two aggressive runners who have the skill to create opportunities for their teammates makes the clash of the two lock forwards a vital one on Sunday.
History: Played 13; Panthers 8, Titans 5. Although the Titans were convincing 32-6 winners when they last met the Panthers it is Penrith who boast four wins from their past five clashes. In three of those losses the Titans have been within eight points at half-time before going on to lose by in excess of 20 points on each occasion. In his past 14 games against the Titans, Panthers half Peter Wallace has lost just once, a 14-10 loss in Round 20, 2012 when he was at the Broncos.
What are the odds: Panthers $1.28, Titans $3.60. Penrith start as a short-priced favourite with Sportsbet but punters aren't ruling out Gold Coast with the money split 50/50. The majority of punters are predicting the Panthers will win by 1-12 points, but decent money is coming in for the Titans by the same margin, suggesting this could be a tight one. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match officials: Referee: Henry Perenara. Assistant Referee: Chris James. Touch Judges: Jason Walsh and David Ryan; Review Officials: Bryan Norrie and Jason Robinson. Senior RO: Luke Patten.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live 2pm AEST
How we see it: A game featuring two of the worst three offending teams for missed tackles and in the top five for offloads promises plenty of entertainment, plenty of points and numerous swings in momentum. The Panthers did well to fight back and claim the scalp of the Warriors in New Zealand last weekend and the Titans also showed much greater patience in putting the Roosters to the sword in the second half on Monday night. The key will be which team can defend their errors best, which on home soil might just be the Panthers in a high-scoring affair. Panthers by four points.