The Melbourne Storm are the first side into the 2017 #NRLGF! A second half landslide saw the 2016 ru...
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Outsiders face off to keep September hopes alive.
Having steadied the ship following a heavy loss against South Sydney to sit just one win behind the eighth placed Dragons, the Panthers will be hoping a return to Pepper Stadium brings with it more of the same. Putting together back-to-back wins over Manly and New Zealand, coach Anthony Griffin will be stressing the importance of Saturday's clash against a Gold Coast outfit possessing multiple scalps over last year's grand finalists. In mixed team selection news, playmakers Matt Moylan and Peter Wallace return from injury at the expense of debutant Tyrone May and Mitch Rein, while Moses Leota will play his first match in first grade since Round 8 as Trent Merrin's replacement. Having claimed five wins from their past seven matches against the Titans, the Panthers will come into Saturday's fixture with high hopes of continuing their push for a finals appearance, a prospect which seemed at long odds after the first nine rounds of the competition saw the men from out West languish in 15th position.
In a year which has seen the Gold Coast triumph over a Melbourne side that scored 36 points, as well as using 32 players in 17 matches, the Titans prospects of an unlikely finals berth go on the line this Saturday. Currently locked in a four-way tie for tenth place, two wins outside the top eight, coach Neil Henry will be stressing the additional significance of the match which could see the side move to within a win of the top eight, while a loss would widen the Panthers advantage at the expense of their own aspirations. Retaining the core of the squad that triumphed over the Sharks in torrential conditions last week, rookie prop Morgan Boyle comes onto the bench in place of Pat Politoni who joins the extended squad. Adding to the significance of Saturday's match, mid-season purchase Dale Copley will feature in his 100th NRL game, while long-serving utility back William Zillman will celebrate his 150th appearance for the club to move equal second alongside foundation co-captain Luke Bailey in matches.
Who to watch: With Trent Merrin set to potentially miss the remainder of 2017, young prop Moses Leota has the opportunity to cement his place in the Panthers first grade side moving forward. Having last featured in the NRL three months ago, the 21-year-old Aucklander has shown glimpses of talent since debuting midway through last season, but will need to step up if the Panthers are to continue their surge towards September. Tied up with Penrith until the end of 2019, Leota will be looking to follow in the footsteps of his fellow NYC graduates James Fisher-Harris, Corey Narawira-Naera and Dylan Edwards and take the form that succeeded in Under 20s through to the big league.
Having established himself as one of the elite forwards in the game at the Melbourne Storm, Kevin Proctor has endured a tumultuous season since moving to the Gold Coast. Initially named as co-captain of the club, the 28-year-old paid the price for his misdemeanours while away with the New Zealand test side, while the change in increased responsibility and style of play has also taken time to accommodate for. With the Titans staring down the gauntlet of needing to win at least five of their remaining matches to qualify for the finals, the experience of Proctor will be vital in leading from the front. Coming off his best performance of the season, Proctor will be out to prove his worth and ensure his 2017 legacy is for his work on the field.
My tip: As it was in their last meeting in the penultimate round of 2016, Saturday's clash looms as pivotal for both sides. With so much to play for it may come down to a moment of individual brilliance. Panthers by 1.
1. Dylan Edwards 2. Josh Mansour 3. Tyrone Peachey 4. Waqa Blake 5. Dallin Watene Zelezniak 6. Matt Moylan 7. Nathan Cleary 8. James Tamou 9. Peter Wallace 16. Tim Browne 11. Corey Harawira 12. Isaah Yeo 13. Moses Leota 14. Sione Katoa 15. Leilani Latu 10. Regan Campbell-Gillard 17. James Fisher-Harris
1. Jarryd Hayne 2. Anthony Don 3. Dale Copley 4. Konrad Hurrell 5. William Zillman 6. Tyrone Roberts 7. Ashley Taylor 8. Jarrod Wallace 9. Nathan Peats 10. Ryan James 11. Kevin Proctor 12. Joe Greenwood 13. Max King 14. Morgan Boyle 17. Leivaha Pulu 16. Nathaniel Peteru 18. Kane Elgey