With a logjam of teams fighting it out for just the one spot up for grabs in the top 8, there is no doubt that Saturday’s clash is do or die for the Titans and Panthers. Both teams endured disappointing starts to 2017 after making the finals last season, however their recent runs of form have kept their season alive- for now. A loss for the Titans would almost certainly end their top 8 chances, as the Panthers would move 4 points clear of them and become tied at 8th with the Dragons. The Panthers will be without lock Trent Merrin, although the return of Matt Moylan and Peter Wallace more than makes up for the loss of their star forward. Neil Henry has been able to name the same starting 13 for the 3rd week in a row, which is an unfamiliar luxury for a Titans side that has been riddled by injury all season.
Last Time Out
As Warriors halfback Shaun Johnson’s season came to an end with a knee injury, it was his opposite number 7 Nathan Cleary who stole the show with a game winning performance that was undoubtedly the best of his young career. The 19-year-old had a hand in everything the Panthers produced, laying on 2 tries and crossing for an impressive 3 of his own. Young guns Dylan Edwards and Tyrone May also had a big impact on the match, with Edwards making a break to put Cleary over the line, and May scoring a try in his NRL debut. The important win put them just 2 points outside the top 8, and was made even sweeter as it put a big blow in the Warriors shot at the finals.
The Titans also had their own young halfback step up and lead the way last week as Ash Taylor picked the Sharks apart in horrendous conditions at Cbus Super Stadium. The former touch player showed off his footwork to step his way through for 2 tries, and laid on another 2 tries with a grubber close to the line and a nicely timed short ball for Kevin Proctor. The Titans right side is beginning to look lethal, as Taylor, Konrad Hurrell, Proctor, and a sweeping Jarryd Hayne constantly asked questions of the Sharks defence. Attack wasn’t the only thing clicking for the Gold Coast, as they managed to hold the premiers to a 30-0 scoreline until the Sharks finally cracked their line twice in the final 10 minutes.
They both carried their teams like seasoned veterans last week, and the mouthwatering clash between Taylor and Cleary is sure to go a long way towards determining the winner of Saturday’s game. The two young halves have already battled it out for the Rookie of the Year award last season, and are sure to be fierce State of Origin rivals for many years to come. Cleary seemed to come alive last week as the chief playmaker of the team alongside debutant half Tyrone May, and it will be interesting to see how dominant of a role he plays with the return of five-eight Matt Moylan. Taylor on the other hand is undoubtedly the key playmaker for the Titans, and has publically credited five-eight Tyrone Roberts for giving him the confidence to take control of the sides attack. All eyes and pressure will be on the two young stars, and whoever can take control of the game on Saturday is likely to leave Pepper Stadium as a winner.
There’s not much separating these two sides on paper or on form, and the result may simply come down to whoever wants it more. The return of Matt Moylan brings a lot of spark to the Panthers lineup, however the Titans have an x-factor of their own in Jarryd Hayne. Hayne’s known for stepping up in the big games, and with the Titans season on the line he should have a strong game to help the Gold Coast to victory.
Titans by 4