Cleary Wins this One
Nathan Cleary has won an early battle in a rivalry that is set to last for years with Ash Taylor, as the Penrith number 7 stepped up in the most important stages of the game to guide his team to victory. Taylor and his Titans looked to have the upper hand in the first 20 minutes of the match with Taylor producing 2 line-break assists including a nice inside ball to William Zillman which lead to the opening try. Taylor then laid on a try for Anthony Don with a grubber to the corner to make the score 14-10, however the 22-year old made a crucial error when his long ball was intercepted by Matt Moylan, taking the Panthers lead out to 20-10 with just 15 minutes to play. From that moment onwards, in which Moylan coincidentally was off the field, Cleary took control of the game, forcing repeat sets to keep the pressure on the Titans and then throwing a great long ball for Dallin Watene-Zelezniak to seal the victory in the 70th minute.
Titans Were Their Own Worst Enemy
It was the game they had to win in order to keep their finals hopes alive, yet the Titans only really have themselves to blame after gifting the Panthers 2 crucial tries and failing to take advantage of their opponent’s slow start to the game. The Panthers could barely get to the end of their sets in the first half with a 60% completion rate, and after racing out to a 6-0 lead the Titans had enough opportunities in the first half to score a few more tries and put the game beyond reach. Instead, Tyrone Roberts dropped the ball to give Waqa Blake a clear pathway to the try-line and send the teams into the halftime break at 6 all. Taylor’s way-ward pass later gifted Moylan with a try when the Titans were trailing by just 4 points, leaving the Gold Coast with a long off-season to ponder over “what if?”
Penrith in for a Frantic Finish
Many predicted that a victory against the Titans would go a long way towards helping the Panthers fight their way into the top 8, and although they were able to leave Round 20 with the 2 points, they now face a much tougher task after the Dragons unexpectedly belted Manly in a sign that they won’t slip out of the 8 anytime soon. Most pundits predicted the Dragons to fall to Manly this weekend, putting Penrith in line with them at 8th place on 22 points. St George’s 52-22 smashing of the Sea Eagles has once again put a bridge between Penrith and the 8, and with the Dragons hitting form they’re now far less likely to slide out of the finals race on their own accord. The Panthers can now rarely afford to lose in the final weeks of the competition as a 4 point gap between them and the Dragons is likely to make the finals out of reach.
Panthers Win the Interchange Battle and Subsequently the Game
It was the injection of interchange forwards Regan Campbell-Gillard, Leilani Latu and James Fisher-Harris which appeared to swing the momentum in Penrith’s favour, while Neil Henry’s questionable use of his bench may have been the downfall for the Titans. The Penrith trio provided huge impact from the bench, each running for over 100 metres with Gillard gaining a whopping 181 in his 61 minutes on the field. Their injection into the game coincided with Penrith’s increased energy, however the Titans could have done far more to slow the Panther’s forwards down. Titans halfback Kane Elgey looked dangerous in his return from injury, although he was unable to make an impact after being brought on at the 68th minute with the game out of reach. Furthermore, damaging prop Nathaniel Peteru bizarrely spent the entire game on the bench, leaving us to wonder if some fresh faces could have changed the momentum of the game for the Titans.
Tries: Blake 2, Moylan, Watene-Zelezniak
Goals: Cleary 3/4
Tries: Hayne, Don, Roberts
Goals: Roberts 2/3