After three weeks on the road, Penrith return to Panthers Stadium on Sunday afternoon with plenty of intriguing storylines surrounding the clash against the in-form Titans.
The obvious one is the return of Bryce Cartwright to the foot of the Mountains for the first time since his pre-season departure to the glitter strip, and right on cue he found some impressive form against the Sea Eagles last weekend.
While the terms of his departure in no way left bad blood between he and the club, there is no doubt Cartwright will be keen to put on a good display against his old team at the ground he once thought would be his home forever.
Same goes for Titans coach Garth Brennan – he has been nothing but positive in his talk about the Panthers but there would be a little bit of extra excitement surrounding the prospect of coaching against his old team for the first time and potentially drawing first blood.
Nobody can deny that Brennan is doing great things with the Titans. Apart from a major misstep in round three against the Dragons, his team have been competitive in every game and managed to secure wins against Canberra, Brisbane and Manly to find themselves in the top eight after the first five rounds of the competition.
There is nothing particularly convincing about the way the Titans play but there’s no doubt that they’re willing to throw the ball around and never give up on hunting down a result. The side is right up there with the best in the competition as far as offloads (fourth), try assists (fourth), intercepts (second) and kick return metres (fourth), proving that one thing the Titans won’t be doing in 2018 is playing conservative footy. Nothing seems to get them down either – they’ve come from behind more than once this season to claim victory.
Penrith produced a gritty performance against the Eels last weekend and while they only crossed for one try, they repeated their defensive effort from the week before against North Queensland and seemed to find energy from their time without the ball. Such strong defence will be a good quality against a Gold Coast side that will throw everything at the Panthers on Sunday.
The Titans are without Ryan James for this clash after he found himself in trouble with the match review committee during the week, while the Panthers will be missing the speed and strength of Waqa Blake who will be sidelined due to an ankle injury. Coach Anthony Griffin has shifted second rower Isaah Yeo into the centres to cover for the loss of Blake.
Penrith will again rely on James Maloney to steer the ship, but Tyrone Peachey got more involved last week and will continue to grow in confidence in his temporary posting in the halves. Some Peachey magic wouldn’t go astray against the Titans on Sunday because there’s no question that 12 points or one try won’t be enough to win this one.
I’m tipping a high scoring encounter. With both sides high on confidence I wouldn’t be surprised if this one goes try-for-try for a good 50 or 60 minutes, before the better side eventually pulls away. On paper, Penrith have the Titans covered and back at Panthers Stadium I’m tipping the big cats will roar home late.
Tip: Panthers by 12.
The Panthers and Titans play at Panthers Stadium on Sunday, April 15 at 2pm.
Troy Dodds is the Weekender’s Managing Editor.