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Panthers v Titans: Ellis to debut; King to start

This is one of those games the Panthers simply have to win if they expect to be serious top four contenders, but the Titans have proved they can't be taken for granted with victories over Canberra, Brisbane and Manly.

Penrith showed how good they can be with a dominant road win over the Cowboys, but they have also shown a softer side in their performances and need to prove they are the real deal - to themselves and the doubters.

The Titans will probably be one of the hardest teams to pick all year when it comes to form and tipping competitions, but they are certainly capable of taming the Panthers. And let's not forget the intriguing subplot of Titans duo Bryce Cartwright and Mitch Rein taking on their former club for the first time.

The key match-up: James Maloney v Ashley Taylor. Whoever wins the halfback battle will heavily influence the result. Maloney is in outstanding form and his running game is also dangerous. Taylor has showed glimpses of form this season and the battle of these two should not disappoint.

For the Panthers to win: With Nathan Cleary sidelined the Panthers will again look to Maloney. The veteran playmaker continues to impress each week, with two tries in his 35 points since joining Penrith this year.

For the Titans to win: The Titans have built their game around the combination of Kane Elgey and Taylor in the halves. This pair need to dominate play and allow opportunities to gain momentum for their outside backs. If they can fire up they'll cause the Panthers a few heartaches.

Panthers v Titans - Round 6

Panthers Stat Attack: Officials have cracked down on ill-discipline this season and no team has been on the receiving end of the whistle than Penrith – the Panthers are the most penalised team in the NRL with 54 after five rounds.

Titans Stat Attack: They may not have the most star-studded team in the league but the Gold Coast have exceeded expectations so far with three wins from five games and coach Garth Brennan has them focused on the one-percenters – they lead the NRL for support runs with 930, well above the next best the Raiders (871), Roosters (860) and Sea Eagles (853).

And another thing: The Penrith Panthers have won eight of their past 10 games at Panthers Stadium.

The prediction: Panthers by 16.

Penrith Panthers v Gold Coast Titans, 2pm Sunday at Panthers Stadium

Panthers: 1 Dylan Edwards, 2 Josh Mansour, 3 Isaah Yeo, 4 Dean Whare, 5 Christian Crichton, 6 Tyrone Peachey, 7 James Maloney, 8 Trent Merrin, 9 Peter Wallace (c), 10 Reagan Campbell-Gillard, 11 Viliame Kikau, 12 Corey Harawira-Naera, 13 James Fisher-Harris

Interchange: 20 Sione Katoa, 15 Kaide Ellis, 16 Moses Leota, 17 James Tamou

Isaah Yeo shifts from back row to centre to cover Waqa Blake (ankle), with Corey Harawira-Naera starting and Kaide Ellis onto the bench. Ellis will be making his NRL debut, becoming the 576th Panther to play first grade. Sione Katoa has replaced Wayde Egan on the reserves in the final 17-man squad announcement. Nick Lui-Toso has also been omitted. Jarome Luai and Jack Hetherington were pruned from the 21-man squad on Saturday. 

Titans: 1 Michael Gordon, 2 Anthony Don, 3 Dale Copley, 4 Konrad Hurrell, 5 Phillip Sami, 6 Kane Elgey, 7 Ashley Taylor, 8 Jarrod Wallace, 9 Nathan Peats (c), 10 Max King, 11 Kevin Proctor, 12 Will Matthews, 13 Jai Arrow

Interchange: 14 Mitch Rein, 20 Ryan Simpkins, 16 Bryce Cartwright, 17 Jack Stockwell

Prop Ryan James (suspension) is a big loss. Max King will start at prop with Will Matthews returning in the back row, while Jack Stockwell replaces Keegan Hipgrave on the bench. Hipgrave and Tyronne Roberts-Davis were cut from the squad 24 hours before kick-off, Leilani Latu and Ryan Simpkins were omitted an hour before kick-off. Nathan Peats has been named to replace James as skipper.

Gold Coast suffered a late hiccup in the warm-up when Bryce Cartwright and Morgan Boyle accidentally clashed heads during a drill. Boyle has been ruled out of the game Sunday's game, replaced on the bench by Simpkins.

Head-to-head: Played 16; Panthers 10 wins, Titans 6 wins

Matches at venue: Played 7; Panthers 4 wins, Titans 3 wins

2017 result: Panthers won 24-16 at Panthers Stadium in round 20

Points per game: Panthers 21 (6th); Titans 20.8 (7th)

Points conceded per game: Panthers 13.6 (5th); Titans 27.2 (16th)

Televised: Live on Fox League

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National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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