Penrith hit the road for what could be the final time this season to take on a plucky Gold Coast side at Cbus Super Stadium on Saturday evening.
Should all go to plan, the Panthers will bunker down in Sydney after this visit to the glitter strip – with two home games to end the season and a Finals campaign that will begin at Panthers Stadium and end just up the road at the bigger venues.
After a competitive stretch in the middle of the season, it feels like the air has gone out of the Titans’ tyres in recent weeks, as a long season – which included the sacking of head coach Justin Holbrook – rolls to its conclusion.
They weren’t terrible against Cronulla last week but the end scoreline – a 36-6 demolition – ultimately tells the story.
Often, teams with a new coach coming in and the Finals well out of reach fall away over this end period of the competition and you get the feeling that’s how it’ll be for the Titans, though they’d be ear-marking their final home game against the Bulldogs as a possible positive end to an otherwise dull season.
Penrith meantime continue to roll on. Without a host of big names again last Thursday night, they finished on top of Manly 24-12 in what was an entertaining affair at 4 Pines Park.
Credit where credit’s due – Manly knew they weren’t going to beat the Panthers with a regular, simple game plan so they threw caution to the wind and very nearly got themselves a result. It was perhaps a warning to Penrith that if other teams a little more equipped to pull off such an audacious game plan get it right on the day, it could spell trouble.
The Titans may not necessarily adapt the Manly approach on Saturday but they’d be silly not to throw the ball around and try to unsettle the defending champions.
Why not push the pass, take the early kick or chip that ball over the top? What have you really got to lose when you’re playing the best defensive team in the competition by far and your Finals hopes are over?
The Panthers are poised to welcome back Jarome Luai for this clash, and it’s a solid addition – he was clearly missed against the Sea Eagles last Thursday as the combination of two natural number sevens in the halves didn’t really deliver the same punch as the usual Nathan Cleary / Luai partnership we’re used to.
Luai may have been handed the villain tag by sections of the media and other teams, but you only get to carry such a tag if you’re a winner and Luai is definitely that. The spark that he brings to Penrith’s attack cannot be under-rated.
Mitch Kenny also makes a welcome return this week, but it should be noted that Soni Luke played well when getting more minutes and earlier game time last week. I’m not convinced by the role Luke plays off the bench usually, but if he can get the type of minutes he did last week then it’s certainly a justified selection each week.
Kenny struggled at the start of the year out of dummy half but the adjustment period post Api Koroisau now appears complete and keeping him fit at this business end of the season will be critical.
I’m expecting a high scoring encounter on Saturday – and I don’t anticipate the Panthers to be all that troubled.
Tip: Panthers by 20.
Penrith and Gold Coast play at Cbus Super Stadium on Saturday, August 19 at 5.30pm. The game is live on Fox Sports.
Troy Dodds is the Weekender’s Managing Editor and Breaking News Reporter. He has more than 20 years experience as a journalist, working with some of Australia’s leading media organisations. In 2023, he was named Editor of the Year at the Mumbrella Publish Awards.