Wests Tigers v Sea Eagles preview
3 hours ago | Tim Costello
Desperate times as Titans fight for first win
Producing their worst start to a season after going down in Auckland last Friday, the Gold Coast Titans will be aiming to turn the tide against the Penrith Panthers in a match shaping as make-or-break for their finals ambitions.
Offering very little in last week's 26-10 defeat to the Warriors, the Titans will need to win on Friday night to have any chance of featuring in September given the precedent set in the NRL era.
With just 17 of 170 teams qualifying for the play-offs after winning one of their first five matches since the ARL and Super League united in 1998, the importance of Friday night cannot be understated for Garth Brennan and his players, as they strive to match the Sydney Roosters' feats 17 years ago of winning a premiership following such a poor opening record.
Winning three of eight clashes against Penrith at CBUS Super Stadium, the past two meetings on the Gold Coast have been separated by a single point, including last year's devastating loss where the Titans established a ten point lead with five minutes left on the clock only to fall foul of Nathan Cleary's right boot in golden point.
Losing Moeaki Fotuaika for one week due to a dangerous contact charge, Max King comes onto the bench in an otherwise unchanged team. In a milestone match for two players at the opposing ends of their careers, Maroons forward Jai Arrow will play his 50th game in the NRL, while veteran fullback Michael Gordon will celebrate 250 games since debuting with the Panthers back in 2006.
Over the opening four rounds the Penrith Panthers have averaged completion rates just over 60 per cent, missed 134 tackles and made 61 errors - all the while winning two matches.
While avalanches of points allowed the Western Sydney club to secure several great escapes last season, wins in 2019 have been far from impressive with last Friday's golden point triumph over the Tigers providing a positive spin on an otherwise bleak start to the year for Ivan Cleary and his players.
Needing to demonstrate considerable improvement in attack after managing just six tries in four matches to start 2019 - their worst strike rate since 1984 - the chance to extend a strong record against the Titans to five consecutive wins could be the spark needed to bring about a revival at the foot of the mountains
Losing recent acquisition Frank Winterstein for an extended period with a knee issue, Tyrell Fuimaono returns to the top grade on the bench, while Dallin Watene-Zelezniak will remain at fullback with Dylan Edwards reverting to the wing after switching positions in the second half last Friday.
Last meeting: Round 22 2018 - Titans 16 Panthers 17
Who to watch: His career may be drawing to a close, yet time has ultimately been extremely kind to Michael Gordon over the past 14 seasons. Coming into first grade with the Panthers in 2006, the 35-year-old fullback will make his 250th appearance on Friday night in a match of immense importance for the Titans and his own career. Replaced midway through the second half in favour of AJ Brimson last Friday, the former NSW and Country representative will be aware of the pressure from the next generation to perform, but having fought back from multiple long-term injuries to reach such a prestigious milestone, don't expect Gordon to relinquish his place in the top grade without a fight.
Flying under the radar of many NRL pundits, but earning plenty of praise amongst his teammates and club insiders, Moses Leota has been a rising star for the Panthers since debuting four years ago. Coming through the club's junior pathways to win an Under 20's title alongside current first graders James Fisher-Harris and Dylan Edwards, the 23-year-old Auckland born prop has provided strong service as a starting forward or off the bench, averaging over 20 tackles in 30 minutes of game time in 2019. Contracted to the Panthers until the end of 2022, look for Leota to produce a trademark performance built around effort and physicality.
The favourite: After getting out of jail last Friday, the Panthers are expected to go back-to-back and condemn the Titans to the worst start by a Queensland team since the Broncos and Cowboys two decades ago.
My tip: Gaining plenty of confidence from downing the Tigers at home, expect Penrith to produce their best performance of the season on the road. Panthers by 16.
1. Michael Gordon 2. Anthony Don 3. Tyrone Peachey 4. Brian Kelly 5. Dale Copley 6. Tyrone Roberts 7. Ash Taylor 8. Jarrod Wallace 9. Mitch Rein 10. Ryan James 11. Kevin Proctor 12. Bryce Cartwright 13. Jai Arrow 14. Alexander Brimson 15. Max King 17. Keegan Hipgrave 20. Jai Whitbread
1. Dallin Watene-Zelezniak 2. Josh Mansour 3. Dean Whare 4. Waqa Blake 5. Dylan Edwards 6. James Maloney 7. Nathan Cleary 8. James Tamou 9. Sione Katoa 10. Reagan Campbell-Gillard 11. Viliame Kikau 12. Isaah Yeo 13. James Fisher-Harris 15. Tyrell Fuimaono 16. Moses Leota 17. Hame Sele 20. Jarome Luai
Referees: Dave Munro, Liam Kennedy; Sideline Officials: Nick Morel, Adam Cassidy; Video Referees: Jared Maxwell, Ben Lowe;