The Parramatta Eels survived a huge scare from the Titans before scraping home 32-28 at CommBank Stadium on Sunday.
Playing their first game at home since round 15 last year the Eels went in as hot favourites but it took three late penalty goals to Mitch Moses to get them home.
All went to script early as the Eels hit the front after four minutes when skipper Clint Gutherson delivered a sweet pass for winger Sean Russell to score on a short side raid.
Five minutes later the margin was out to 10 points after a booming Mitch Moses kick from inside his own half hit the goalposts on the full and rebounded to Dylan Brown who toed ahead for Russell to grab a second.
An incorrect play the ball by Junior Paulo then opened the door for the Titans to hit back and Toby Sexton obliged by putting Phil Sami into the corner with a long cut-out pass.
The Eels had a third try in the 19th minute when back-rower Shaun Lane got across on the left edge and the home side was up 14-6.
Super Sami takes flight
A sweeping raid down the left featuring Moeaki Fotuaika, Sexton and Will Smith resulted in Brian Kelly crossing to pull it back to 14-12 but Russell's hat-trick courtesy of a Moses long ball gave the Eels breathing space again.
Waqa Blake's try stretched the Eels' lead to 26-12 before Erin Clark powered over from close range to make it 26-18.
Kelly then crossed for his second - and the ninth try of the first half - after David Fifita had gapped the Eels down the right and the ball was swung left with quick hands to give the winger a free run to the line.
A freakish try by Sami off a towering Will Smith kick in the 42nd minute gave the Titans the lead 28-26 before the game developed into an arm wrestle.
Hat-trick for Sean Russell
A controversial penalty to the Eels for ruck interference against Isaac Liu handed Moses the chance to level things up at 28-28 with 14 minutes to play.
Moses then added another penalty goal when Gutherson put a grubber through and Tino Fa'asuamaleaui was pinged for blocking the Eels skipper's run.
Down by two with two minutes to play the Titans attempted a short dropout through Patrick Herbert but the ball went backwards and out on the full and Moses landed another penalty goal.
Match: Eels v Titans
Round 1 -
Venue: CommBank Stadium, Sydney
- At just 19, Eels winger Sean Russell has five tries to his name in three career games. After completing his hat-trick in the 34th minute Russell was forced from the field with a rib injury and taken to hospital.
- In his first game as Titans captain Tino Fa'asuamaleaui led from the front with 11 runs for 86 metres and a high workrate in defence (34 tackles).
- Waqa Blake enjoys coming up against the Titans, having scored eight tries in nine games against Gold Coast.
- The Titans completed 14 of 15 sets in the first half but a lack of ball control in the second term saw them finish the match with a 70% completion rate (21 of 30).
- Phil Sami revived memories of a famous try scored by Canterbury's Steve Gearin in the 1980 grand final when he chased a Will Smith bomb and leapt high over Bailey Simonsson to catch the ball on the full and score.
Play of the game
From a smorgasbord of four-pointers, Brian Kelly's second try on the stroke of half-time was the pick of the bunch. After a trademark 50-metre charge by David Fifita down the right touchline the ball was quickly sent to the left where Toby Sexton, Will Smith, Kevin Proctor and Beau Fermor all played their part to give Kelly a clear run to the line.
Kelly caps off an explosive move by the Titans
What They Said
"I'm not here to take anything away from Parramatta but it's about us as a club not being a big club and not getting any [calls]. We had a great opportunity taken away from us to win a game of footy. That first half of footy was exciting with a lot of tries... the second half, honestly if I wasn't coaching, I would've fallen asleep. The game didn't flow, the whole second half. It was so disappointing to watch my team continually defend the line and never get a chance to win the game. That's the way I feel, I'm being honest." - Titans coach Justin Holbrook.
Gold Coast Titans
"It's our first win and they're always the hardest ones. It come a bit easy for us at the start and then defensively it wasn't what I was expecting from us. To the boys' credit at least in the second half we played all the right field position and completed all our sets and we were down the other end of the field." - Eels coach Brad Arthur.
The Eels welcome Marata Niukore back from suspension for their clash with the Sharks at PointsBet Stadium on Saturday. In their only meeting last year it was the Eels winning convincingly at CommBank Stadium.
The Titans are at home to the Warriors at Cbus Super Stadium. The Titans had a 6-6 split in games at Cbus Super Stadium in 2021 and will be keen to make it more of a fortress this season.