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Undermanned Panthers look to maintain the rage against Titans
The Titans will be looking to keep any distant hopes of a top-eight finish alive with a shock win. Gold Coast were solid early against Melbourne last week as they defended their line in the opening stages of the game. But errors proved their downfall and saw them slump to a 42-6 loss.
Their best bet against Penrith is to throw caution to the wind. Unlike the Panthers of old, this is a far more resilient and composed bunch. They love the grind so the Titans' best bet is to encourage ball movement within their forward pack to try catch the Panthers out around the ruck without Apisai Koroisau. This, of course, could also lead to more errors but aside from testing Penrith's new combinations out wide, I don't see any other way they can post enough points to win Sunday's game.
The Panthers will be looking to remain on top of the ladder with a sixth-straight win on Sunday. They will have to do it without a host of stars. Koroisau, Dylan Edwards and Dean Whare join four other regular first-graders on the sidelines.
Fortunately for Penrith, they have strong depth which means they have been able to easily fill the gaps. Mitch Kenny won't offer as much in attack as Koroisau but is dependable as is Caleb Aekins, who deputised for Edwards at the start of the year. Malakai Watene-Zelezniak lines up on the wing with Brent Naden shifting to Whare's vacant centre spot.
There are suggestions a shake-up could occur closer to game day with Matt Burton and Daine Laurie a chance of being late inclusions to boost Penrith's backline. It will be interesting to see if Burton does get a run given his future at the club likely does not lie in the halves stuck behind Nathan Cleary and Jarome Luai.
If we take the current 17, the pressure will be on Cleary and Luai to really take control of the side's attack but both have shown great improvement in 2020 with more polish and control to the end of sets.
Last meeting: Round 17 2019 - Panthers 24 Titans 2
Who to watch: One of the Gold Coast's biggest advantages will be in the air and Anthony Don should be a consistent target to aim for. Josh Mansour and Watene-Zelezniak are both strong ball runners but not notable aerial threats. The Don, on the other hand, is a handy option for cross field kicks. The key will be to aim it far enough out wide that it does not draw in either Stephen Crichton or Brent Naden, who are both more than capable of shutting down aerial raids.
This is the kind of game that could really see Stephen Crichton break records. The Gold Coast have poor defence on their edges and Penrith's lethal left side has proven a handful for even the best sides in the competition. Crichton has already impressed in his first full season of first grade with a knack to make the most amazing tricks look deceptively simple. If the Titans give him enough space or time he will ignite Penrith's attack.
The favourite: The first placed Panthers - despite their injury dramas - are well backed to account for the lowly Titans.
My tip: The absences for Penrith could work in their favour if they see it as an opportunity to challenge themselves with a less potent line-up. The trio who come in have all spent significant time at Panthers and will know their roles. The only issue facing Penrith is the same lack of energy that saw them slip up against the Cowboys. Look for another Nathan Cleary masterclass. Panthers by 20.
1. Corey Thompson 2. Anthony Don 3. Brian Kelly 4. Dale Copley 5. Phillip Sami 6. Ashley Taylor 7. Jamal Fogarty 8. Moeaki Fotuaika 19. Nathan Peats 10. Jaimin Jolliffe 11. Kevin Proctor 18. Sam Stone 13. Jai Arrow 14. Tanah Boyd 16. Tyrone Peachey 17. Jarrod Wallace 21. Jai Whitbread
1. Caleb Aekins 2. Josh Mansour 3. Brent Naden 4. Stephen Crichton 5. Malakai Watene-Zelezniak 6. Jarome Luai 7. Nathan Cleary 8. James Tamou 9. Mitch Kenny 10. James Fisher-Harris 12. Liam Martin 13. Isaah Yeo 14. Tyrone May 15. Spencer Leniu 16. Moses Leota 17. Billy Burns 18. Matt Burton
Referees: Adam Gee; Sideline Officials: Peter Gough, Todd Smith; Video Referees: Steve Clark, Ben Galea;