There was no wallpapering over the error-ridden performance of the Titans in Bathurst today. A 40-0 score line, 52 per cent completion rate which saw the team have only 39 per cent of possession during the game says it all.
But it could have been different.
The Titans looked to be first to score after just six minutes when left winger Anthony Don beat Panther fullback Matt Moylan to a perfect Aidan Sezer kick. Referee Morris ruled no try despite the touch judge not intervening and Don claiming he was definitely onside.
Morris sent it to video refs Clark and Folkes who later admitted Don was out of frame so they couldn’t overrule the ref. This was a pitfall of having inadequate camera coverage with the grandstand at Bathurst not expansive enough for Fox Sports to have the normal camera position.
Only four minutes later Sezer put fullback Will Zillman into a hole and he ‘scored’ only to be called back with the video refs, this time ruling Ryan James obstructed a defender.
Instead of being 10-0 or 12-0 ahead, the Titans were 8-0 behind within 18 minutes. They created opportunities; they looked confident; they looked on top. But calls didn't go their way.
Yet over expansive play – mostly passes that missed their target, particularly when they worked into the Panthers’ red zone - was the team’s underdoing from then. The fact they got to that end of the field frequently early was the positive thing; the times the ball was spilled well before the last play was the frustrating thing.
Yet to be only 8-0 behind at half-time, a credit to some tight defence led by workhorses Luke Douglas and Nate Myles, gave the Titans hope. And James Robert’ brilliant right side break that could have led to a try just after the break, could have given such impetus too.
Roberts’ pace and footwork was downright freakish. Then he positioned Mead well but the winger’s pass to a Panther defender yet again ruined one of many moments of promise.
But the abuse of possession, from that play and too often thereafter, and a fall away in defence under the weight of possession, meant there was a lot different ending than there should have been. Thirty-two points in the final 34 minutes was not in the script. It was a legacy of the Titans completing just eight of 11 sets with the ball.
Off-field distractions and missing players weren’t responsible. Loose hands were. And the coaching staff and players know it.
“There have been a lot of distractions but we can’t sit here and make excuses for a performance like that,” said coach Neil Henry. “There was a lot to like about the first half, we really had some opportunities and made some line breaks … but we turned some possible six points into nothing. I’m happy we created opportunities and at 8-0 at half-time we were in a game of football and they knee it as well.
“We just didn’t get any continuity in the second half and strayed from the game plan … we just didn’t retain possession and crucially turned the ball over early in the count. We were outplayed by a side that had too much possession.”
Skipper Nate Myles was more succinct: “Too many errors early in the count just didn’t allow us to get work into the game or get in good position at their end of the field … very disappointing.”
Sezer looked very dangerous and effective in the first half, combining well with Zillman from the back. But he admitted too. “In the first half we were competitive but we let them off the hook with some silly errors, too early in the tackle count,” he said.
The Titans made 325 tackles to Penrith’s 241 but, tellingly, the Panthers had 93 more plays – that’s a lot of extra possession.
The team then had to endure a three-hour coach drive back to their hotel near Sydney, to rest before a Sunday morning flight back to the Gold Coast.
They will go into the clash with Newcastle at home next Sunday knowing, for two games straight, unforced errors was what cost them victory – and more from the experienced players than those who are in their formative NRL years. That gives real hope that the fine line in the NRL may soon be crossed.
THE STATS STORY
TOP TACKLERS: Luke Douglass 40, Nate Myles 39, Lachlan Burr 32.
TOP METRE MAKERS: Ryan James 103, William Zillman 95, Luke Douglas 93.
LINE BREAKS: James Roberts 1, David Mead 1.
COMPLETION RATES: Panthers 71%, Titans 52%.
COMPLETED SETS: Panthers 32, Titans 17.
RUNS: Panthers 230 (2019m), Titans 137 (1189m)
TACKLES: Titans 343, Panthers 240.
MISSED TACKLES: Titans 33, Panthers 21.
LINE BREAKS: Panthers 8, Titans 2.
PENALTIES: Panthers 11, Titans 7.