The iSelect Titans’ four-match winning run came to an end tonight at Sportingbet Stadium but not without a fight that went right down to the last play of the game in the 14-12 loss to the Penrith Panthers.
After being behind on the scoreboard from the seventh minute when Panthers left centre and Kiwi international Dean Whare scored, and being 12-0 behind at half an hour, the Titans worked hard in defence in a game dominated by too many penalties and some contentious decisions.
However the execution at the right end of the field, particularly in the second half on the back of penalties of Penrith lost possession, was not good enough to build pressure and convert them to points. At least four times the Titans lost possession within 10 metres of the Panthers’ line from pushed passes, forward passes or dropped balls.
However, in the end an Aidan Sezer scored off a rebounded Albert Kelly grubber kick with just under three minutes to go that kept the Titans in the game until the death.
On the back of a penalty from a Penrith forward pass Gold Coast had one last set with the ball in the final minute only for a cross kick bomb from Kelly to the right corner to go dead in goal.
“It was similar to games we played all year,” admitted coach John Cartwright. “We were down in some key areas; our support play was down and we missed tackles on their key players we targeted as those we had to stop like Mansour and Jamal [Idris].
“We addressed that at half-time and it was a slog in the second half. But it was the way we’d played all year and when you win some tight ones you’re going to lose a tight one too.
“I thought we hung in really well. At 12-0 they could have got away from us but we stuck our job and with any luck at the end we could have come away with a win.”
What is obvious is that it has become difficult for any team to gain prolonged momentum with the ball with more than 20 penalties common in a match, with this game no different (Penrith won the count 11-10). Some bordered on pedantic. Kelly was penalised for a high tackle on Mansour when Mansour was clearly falling and made contact with Kelly’s shoulder.
Titans prop Matt White was put on report the 61st minute for lifting in a tackle on Adam Docker, with Nate Myles also in the tackle.
“So many penalties are detracting from the game and slowing it down,” commented Cartwright. “It’s a worry for everyone, the players and the fans. There were a couple of offside ones when the ref was back 12-14 metres.”
But the loss was more down to the Titans not taking advantage of opportunities; 38 missed tackles and some through the middle of the ruck where the Titans have been so solid in the previous rounds and a bit of luck deserting them.
The Panthers undoubtedly had the better of the first half which was riddled with 11 penalties, all around the ruck or for offside. Yet a Ryan James try only the second time he touched the ball saw the Titans well in the match at 12-6.
James was good in his first spell and tackled ferociously on his own line during a crucial period of the second half, making three successive tackles.
However, the normally tight Titans defence was broken several times early, with Panthers halfback Peter Wallace getting through twice and ex-Titans centre Idris proving a real handful in the first half, with the big man obviously fired up against his former teammates. Yet he was subdued by good defence in the second.
Penrith scored the first try through Whare when he got outside of Maurice Blair in a passing shift to Penrith’s right from 20m. Jamie Soward converted for 6-0.
They were in again through fullback Matt Moylan after a Soward grubber into the in-goal was fumbled backwards by David Mead and then rebounded off Paul Carter’s boot as he tried to clean it up, only for it to bounce further away and Moylan beating Carter to the ball.
Soward converted again from 10 metres to the right of the posts for 12-0 and the Titans were certainly on the back foot.
However a much needed try came for our boys three minutes from half-time. Albert Kelly gave the Titans a second set after he weaved a grubber in behind Mansour in the right former and the defence trapped the winger in-goal.
From the drop-out, James charged onto an inside ball from dummy-half from Paul Carter on the Panthers’ try-line and the big prop went over three tacklers to just get the ball down. Aidan Sezer converted to have the Titans just two points in arrears at the break.
The effort was certainly there throughout the match and only two tries or less were conceded for the fifth time in seven games which pleased Cartwright. As usual Ashley Harrison’s contribution may have been unheralded by many but he topped the tackle count with 43, some crucial efforts, and carted the ball forward with purpose.
All four props – Ryan, Myles, Luke Douglas and Matt White – worked hard. Kevin Gordon almost got through the line on several occasions but couldn’t find the decisive opportunity, and Aidan Sezer kicked and controlled play well. Carter was busy and enthusiastic in attack and defence against the club for which his father Steve holds the first grade appearance record.
At two tries each the difference between the sides boiled down to a penalty goal from Soward in the 50th minute for Brad Takairangi changing course to obstruct Idris after a Soward bomb that the Titans let bounce and looked to have provided a try to Soward before he was called back for a knock on.
Penrith 14 (Whare, Moylan tries; Soward 3 goals) beat iSelect Gold Coast Titans 12 (James, Sezer tries; Sezer 2 goals). Crowd: 9555.