The Titans played with resilience and character in the season opener against Wests Tigers last Saturday. A week later the side that has just one change must show those qualities plus better respect for possession and an improved kicking game to take an impressive Penrith down to the wire in Bathurst this afternoon.
Against Wests Tigers, when the game was there to be won, the Titans lost possession four times in their last six sets. They know composure, which was so good in the first half despite the off-field distractions that had been evident in the lead-up to the season opener, must improve. And most of all, at the crucial back end of the match if the result is still there for the taking.
There were some line-ball referees’ decisions that didn’t go the Titans way but the bottom line was that ball-surrendering in the last 13 minutes cost the side a potential victory that would have gone down as one of the club’s best.
However the fact is that the Titans’ past two NRL matches have been a one-point victory over last year’s grand finalists Canterbury in the final round of 2014 and a one-point loss to start 2015 – both games with the side missing several key players.
So the depth and determination is obvious no matter who takes the field, and the team will be underdogs again today. But to be victorious the Titans have to grind for the 80 minutes and kick a lot smarter and control the ball under pressure.
“The Panthers were impressive against the Bulldogs, I think the way our team played was good for our confidence and showed that we could put the off-field distractions behind us and focus on the field,” said coach Neil Henry who has been happy with this week’s training.
“We’ll need to do that again and put in an improved performance because we didn’t take opportunities to win that game.”
Three former Panthers are in the Titans’ 17: Matt Robinson who played in Penrith’s finals campaign last season, Kierran Moseley who won under-20s and a NSW Cup premierships in his two seasons at the foot of the mountains, and James Roberts who scored two tries against the Tigers and is a potential match-winner, although he will obviously be closely watched by the Panthers who are well-familiar with his blinding speed.
“We have a few boys who have played at Penrith so it’s naturally a challenge for them and they are looking forward to it,” said Henry. “The Panthers are a very good side, strong right across the paddock with two experienced halves to guide them around. So we have to be right on our game.
“Jimmy [Roberts] had shown he can certainly find the try-line and he is developing his game, we need to get him some early ball and space because he can be hard to handle,” Henry said of Roberts. “His defence is also improving, so he can get better.”
While Roberts can certainly excite and many have claimed he is the NRL’s fastest player, the fact is he has only played 29 first grade games at age 22 (as of 11 days ago) – although those appearances have brought 18 tries. So he is yet to establish himself and has much to learn, with a large scope for improvement.
Ryan James – who has started the season in fine form - is a similar case. At 23 (he turns 24 in July), this is his 49th NRL appearance so, while much is expected of him, he is still developing and improving too. In fact eight of today’s Titans team have played less than 50 first grade games – Roberts, James, Matt Robinson (33), Anthony Don (28), Mark Ioane (19), Kierran Moseley (2), Lachlan Burr (2) and Agnatius Paasi (2) although Moseley is the youngest at 21. Aidan Sezer has only played 54 games. So that means much of this squad have their best football ahead of them.
Kevin Gordon was a withdrawal after Wednesday’s final session before the team travelled to Sydney overnight before heading by coach to Bathurst yesterday, breaking his nose during a collision with Leva Li while taking a high kick. He will be replaced by Anthony Don who finished last season in fine form and was the team’s leading try-scorer in 2014.
The Panthers are well coached, confident and full of danger men.
Former Titan Jamaal Idris was a real handful when the two sides met at Penrith last year. Young winger George Jennings had an impressive NRL debut last week; Matt Moylan is the rising fullback of the NRL; Tyrone Peachey troubled the Titans last season; nephew of Titans foundation coach John Cartwright, Bryce Cartwright, is developing into a tremendous prospect; hooker James Segeyaro is perhaps the most dynamic in the competition and the side is steered around by Peter Wallace and Jamie Soward who have arguably the best kicking game in the NRL. Soward’s passes to the left edge must be watched closely.
PANTHERS: Matt Moylan, George Jennings, Dean Whare, Jamal Idris, Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, Jamie Soward, Peter Wallace, Sam Mckendry, James Segeyaro, Brent Kite, Sika Manu, Lewis Brown, Elijah Taylor. Interchange - Tyrone Peachey, Jeremy Latimore, Reagan Campbell-Gillard, Bryce Cartwright, Isaah Yeo.
TITANS: William Zillman, Anthony Don, James Roberts, Josh Hoffman, David Mead, Aidan Sezer, Daniel Mortimer, Luke Douglas, Kierran Moseley, Eddy Pettybourne, Ryan James, Lachlan Burr, Nate Myles. Interchange: Agnatius Paasi, Mark Ioane, Matt Robinson, Matt Srama,
Kick-off: 4.30 (NSW), 3.30pm Qld.
Match Officials: Lead Referee: Gavin Morris. Assistant Referee: Alan Shortall. Touch Judges: David Ryan and Jon Stone. Video Referees: Steve Clark and Steve Folkes.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live 4.30pm AEDT.