If you want proof that a month is a long time in rugby league, you only need to look at the differences between the Penrith and Gold Coast teams that met in round two and the sides that will come up against each other this Saturday at Cbus Super Stadium.
Back on March 14, Penrith thrashed the Titans 40-0.
Jamie Soward and Peter Wallace led the side around the park that day but on Saturday, neither of the dynamic duo will be there. Instead, both will continue to recover from unplanned early season surgery.
Penrith also boasted the experienced centre pairing of Dean Whare and Jamal Idris that day, but will this week line-up with probably the most inexperienced centre pairing in history: Waqa Blake and debutant Robert Jennings.
The Titans were without their biggest stars, Greg Bird and Dave Taylor, for the game in Bathurst but both will line-up against the Panthers on the weekend.
A strange quirk may see the Panthers and the Titans meeting twice in five weeks but the games will barely resemble each other.
The Panthers got their early season form back on track last Saturday night by defeating lowly Manly 22-12. Regardless of the sloppy performance at times, the win was incredibly important as it avoided a potential fourth straight loss.
The more games Penrith can win with Soward and Wallace off the field, the better. When the pair are reunited before the mid-way point of the season, you would think things would really start to click into gear for the team. Until then, fans will have to put up with a slightly clunky attack, particularly given Api Koroisau and Isaac John wouldn’t have thought in their wildest dreams that they’d be the Panthers first grade halves combination just six or seven weeks into the season. Combinations take months, if not seasons to develop – Koroisau and John will continue to be a work in progress.
That said, both had solid games against the Sea Eagles last weekend. It should not be forgotten that they came up against a quality halves pairing in Daly Cherry-Evans and Kieran Foran, but continued to outplay them as the game went on.
Unlike in previous weeks, Penrith did enough to stay in the game against Manly even when things weren’t going their way. It ensured that when the Panthers forward pack did start to dominate in the second half, the side was close enough on the scoreboard to make it matter. It’ll be a similar story against the Titans on Saturday. Apart from the 40-0 thrashing at the hands of Penrith, the Titans haven’t been embarrassed in any of the games they’ve played. In each and every match they’ve played for the 80 minutes, often going down by just a couple of points – the difference in wining or losing literally coming down to the bounce of a ball or a missed tackle here and there.
The biggest challenge confronting Penrith could be in defence. He may not attract headlines, but Elijah Taylor is so critical to Penrith’s success each week – losing him to a knee injury is a massive blow. He has been named to play but there would have to be severe doubt over him taking the field.
This is a dangerous road trip for the Panthers particularly given how good the Titans played last weekend, but a win would be a huge bonus considering the massive injury toll the side is dealing with. It’s a flip of the coin type match.
Tip: Panthers by
– Troy Dodds