The Gold Training Titans under-20s have given runaway competition leaders Penrith a real scare at Pepper Stadium, going down 28-24.
Without several key players, the young Titans led 18-6 at half-time but could not hold off the Panthers as they clicked into top gear in the second half.
Gold Coast went into the match without skipper Jed Cartwright (shoulder) and Junior Kiwis centre Greg Leleisiuao (knee) with injury, Leleisiuao withdrawing the night before the game after being hurt at training.
Shaun Hinton was brought into the side with Christian Mika going to right wing and Phillip Sami to the centres, while Ethan Roberts replaced Cartwright.
The Titans had the perfect start to the game when Roberts scored in the second minute. With e penalty giving the Titans a repeat set, he broke a tackle from close range and score. Tyronne Roberts-Davis’ conversion made it 6-0.
Only 10 minutes later the Titans extended the lead to 12-0 when five-eighth Josh Rogers dummied, broke and tackle and ran over from 15 metres, giving Roberts-Davis an easy kick at goal.
The Panthers were on the scoreboard in the 28th minute when prop Jack Hetherington stepped through some lazy defence around the ruck close to the line and scored next to the posts. It was converted by Jerome Luai to make the score 12-6.
Rogers scored his second just 10 seconds before the break, when he beat the line with two right foot steps from 10 metres. Roberts-Davis made it three from three to give the Titans a handy 18-6 half-time lead against the competition leaders.
The Panthers were first to score in the second half through Daniel Brown after the Titans markers over-read the play and Brown split the defence from an inside ball on the last tackle. Luia converted to make it 18-6.
The Panthers levelled the scores after 52 minutes in the set after Titans fullback Tye Barry was caught in goal, forcing a line-drop-out. From the ensuing set Penrith second-rower Corey Waddell beat five with incredible footwork from 15 metres.
In the Titans next set with the ball, Christian Mika dropped the ball on the first tackle 20 metres from the Titans line, gifting the Panthers good field position.
And they came up with the try that gave the Panthers the lead for the first time after 67 minutes. Penrith kicked across-field on the last tackle and the ball wrong-footed Barry and it deflected forward and in the scramble Christian Crichton planted the ball over the line.
Soon after the Titans were dealt a bigger blow when Morgan Boyle was lifted off with a leg injury, meaning that of the six NYC players who spent the off-season training with the NRL squad, only centre Brian Kelly remained.
Only three tackles later Brown was in for his second try when an attempted strip in a tackle, only saw the ball go loose in front of the posts and Brown scooped it up and touched down. Luia converted for Penrith to go further ahead 28-18.
A try to halfback Josh Ralph with two and a half minutes remaining kept the match alive at 28-24. Kelly was put into space on the left side and ran 40 metres before passing inside to Ralph. Roberts missed the conversion.
The Titans had one last chance when, after given a penalty when Rogers was knocked over after chip-licking, they had one last play inside the Panthers’ quarter but could not break the line.