Unburdened by the pressure of competing in the race to the finals, the Gold Training Gold Coast Titans under-20s are set to throw everything at the Penrith Panthers at Cbus Super Stadium on Saturday.
The Titans have nothing to lose in the David and Goliath match-up with the Holden Cup minor premiers.
They had been a mathematical chance of featuring in the finals until last weekend’s 36-24 loss to the Newcastle Knights.
Although other results still had to go their way, the defeat effectively meant the end of their top eight campaign.
“Our attack was a little off,” said coach Ben Woolf whose team led 16-10 at halftime.
“We came out in that second half a little flat.”
Still, the under-20s have an opportunity to dent the confidence of the Panthers who hold a five-point buffer over the rest of the competition.
Forwards Nathan Watts and Max King have been heavy contributors on a weekly basis.
And a more consistent 80 minutes from talented backline stars AJ Brimson and Josh Ralph would go a long way to securing an upset.
“The Panthers are the benchmark in this competition,” Woolf said.
‘” They’re the most intense team I’ve seen in relation to kick-chase, line speed … they’re a very good football team.”
The reigning premiers’ chances were dealt a huge blow midweek when Panthers stars Jarome Luai and Jack Hetherington were suspended for the rest of the season for their involvement in a dangerous tackle on Wests Tigers fullback Daniel Roberts.
The duo will each miss six weeks, ruling them out for the rest of the 2016 regular season and the NYC finals series.
Luai played halfback in Penrith's grand final win last year and had been one of the form players in the Holden Cup with 24 try assists (third in the competition), four tries and 39 goals.
Wednesday night's decision also means the season is over for Hetherington after he failed to have his grade two charge downgraded.
Teammate Reed Izzard was also suspended, for one match, after successfully having his grade two charge downgraded.