Titans admit they're on finals tightrope
They squeezed into the top eight with 27 points last season but Titans coach Neil Henry concedes it could take as many as 30 to play finals football in 2017 ahead of their crucial clash with the Panthers at Pepper Stadium on Saturday.
Currently riding the momentum of a three-game winning streak, the Titans finalised their preparations with their captain's run on Friday morning with prop Jarrod Wallace sitting out and a decision still to be made about the make-up of the bench, Kane Elgey a chance to return in favour of hooker Pat Politoni.
The Panthers currently sit one win ahead of the Titans and one win outside the top eight making Saturday's clash integral for Gold Coast to win if they are to keep pace with the finals contenders with six weeks remaining in the regular season.
The Dragons currently hold down eighth spot with a +52 points differential and after Sunday's meeting with Manly face only one side below them on the ladder (Brisbane in Round 24) in the closing six weeks of the season.
If the Titans are to reach 30 points this year they need to win six of their remaining seven games and with assignments against the Broncos (Round 22) and Roosters (Round 26) still to come getting the premiership points against the equally desperate Panthers is paramount.
"It's one we need to win," said Titans coach Neil Henry. "They're all very important to us now given the context of where we are and the season and the games that are left and the gap to the top eight.
"It might be 30 points to be at the bottom of the eight so we need to get down there and get a win.
"It's a tough ask but the boys have been playing some good footy, we've got some confidence around our defence and that will be a key.
"If we can stop what they're doing with the ball – they're a very good attacking team – I'm confident we've got the points in us.
"If we keep winning our games we'll creep up the ladder. There's going to be a natural attrition and sides are going to be out of contention and we just don't want to be one of those sides.
"It's up to us to get down there and really play with a lot of energy every week.
"That's what's in front of us and hopefully have a little bit of luck and keep the same team on the park."
One of the pre-season premiership fancies, the Panthers have reinvigorated their finals hopes on the back of six wins in their past eight games and this week welcome back Matt Moylan and Peter Wallace from injury.
Nineteen-year-old half Nathan Cleary stepped up in magnificent fashion against the Warriors last weekend but Henry expects them to be a more dangerous outfit with Moylan and Wallace back in the side.
"[Cleary] is very calm, does the majority of their kicking and as we saw he's certainly a runner," said Henry.
"What they have is two halves that will run the ball and take the line on. We saw examples of that last week when he got three tries and we certainly need to be wary around our forwards because he will take the line on.
"Wallace has been out for several weeks now but very solid competitor in the middle.
"They'll miss Merrin a little bit because he certainly adds a fair bit of variety in the middle but they make up for it with those two guys back."