One win is all it takes to spark a season, and that is what the Gold Coast Titans will be banking on when they host the Penrith Panthers at Cbus Stadium on Friday night.
The Titans have started the season winless from their first four games, and while no one at the Gold Coast is looking for excuses, having three quarters of their first-choice spine missing for the majority of a three-game run of away games has not helped.
But if the Titans need some self-belief that early form doesn’t have to define a season, they need only look north to their cousins the Cowboys for inspiration.
In 2015, the Cowboys started the season with three straight losses – including beltings at the hands of the Roosters (28-8) and Broncos (44-22).
Like the Titans of 2019, hopes were high for the Cowboys that season, and similarly, they copped a barrage of criticism for not living up to expectations in the early rounds.
But in Round 4 of 2015, the Cowboys snuck home 19-17 against Melbourne in Townsville – sparking a run of victories that would carry them all the way to the NRL premiership.
While the Titans are not ready to challenge for the title just yet, the Cowboys 2015 season is a reminder that a slow start is not necessarily the death knell for a season.
If the Titans – with a more settled, full week of preparation behind them – can live up to their potential against the inconsistent Panthers, they might be able to build some momentum and keep their top eight hopes alive.
Fullback for Titans is number 1 Michael GordonFullback for Panthers is number 1 Dallin Watene-Zelezniak
Winger for Titans is number 2 Anthony DonWinger for Panthers is number 2 Josh Mansour
Centre for Titans is number 3 Tyrone PeacheyCentre for Panthers is number 3 Dean Whare
Centre for Titans is number 4 Brian KellyCentre for Panthers is number 4 Waqa Blake
Winger for Titans is number 5 Dale CopleyWinger for Panthers is number 5 Dylan Edwards
Five-Eighth for Titans is number 6 Tyrone RobertsFive-Eighth for Panthers is number 6 James Maloney
Halfback for Titans is number 7 Ashley TaylorHalfback for Panthers is number 7 Nathan Cleary
Prop for Titans is number 8 Jarrod WallaceProp for Panthers is number 8 James Tamou
Hooker for Titans is number 9 Mitch ReinHooker for Panthers is number 9 Sione Katoa
Prop for Titans is number 10 Ryan JamesProp for Panthers is number 10 Reagan Campbell-Gillard
2nd Row for Titans is number 11 Kevin Proctor2nd Row for Panthers is number 11 Viliame Kikau
2nd Row for Titans is number 12 Bryce Cartwright2nd Row for Panthers is number 12 Isaah Yeo
Lock for Titans is number 13 Jai ArrowLock for Panthers is number 13 James Fisher-Harris
Interchange for Titans is number 14 Alexander BrimsonInterchange for Panthers is number 15 Tyrell Fuimaono
Interchange for Titans is number 15 Max KingInterchange for Panthers is number 16 Moses Leota
Interchange for Titans is number 17 Keegan HipgraveInterchange for Panthers is number 17 Hame Sele
Interchange for Titans is number 20 Jai WhitbreadInterchange for Panthers is number 20 Jarome Luai
Titans: Only one change to Garth Brennan’s 17 as they go in search of their first win of the season with Max King coming in on the bench for the suspended Moeaki Fotuaika.
Panthers: A notable switch for the Panthers, with Ivan Cleary swapping Dallin Watene-Zelezniak and Dylan Edwards. DWZ will play fullback, with Edwards on the left wing. Tyrell Fuimano is the new face on the bench, with Viliame Kikau named to start in place of injured Frank Winterstein (knee).
The Titans won’t be lacking for motivation anyway as they chase their first two points of the season, but the opportunity for a host of former Panthers to deliver against their former club will not be lost. Bryce Cartwright has enjoyed a solid start to the season, but is yet to recapture his peak form. Centre Tyrone Peachey can ignite his season after an unsettled start at his new club by producing the type of game that made the Panthers so desperate to keep him.
For the Titans to win
Slow starts have been killing the Titans so far this season, with their most productive footy so far coming in the second half against Cronulla, Souths and the Warriors while chasing leads. If they can get some early points on the board, it may help take the pressure and errors out of their catch-up footy.
For the Panthers to win
Not only were they less than two minutes from a third loss in four games, the Panthers were about to be kept try-less for the second time in as many matches before Nathan Cleary saved the day. This team looks nothing like a premiership contender at the moment and perhaps coach Ivan Cleary needs to come up with some offensive variation.
Brett Kimmorley says
It’s time for the Panthers to show some consistency and a little bit of form. (Viliame) Kikau was back last week and that’ll really help their left edge in attack. I certainly get the impression Brad Fittler would like his NSW halves to stand up. As for the Titans, they are finding ways to lose. They’ve got some big defensive deficiencies. Panthers by 12
Titans Stat Attack
The Titans' 69% completion rate was in stark contrast to the Warriors' impressive 91% (30/33) in last Friday's 26-10 loss in Auckland. Their 14 errors almost tripled that of the Warriors (5). Mitch Rein made the most tackles (46) and Jarrod Wallace the most metres (149).
Panthers Stat Attack
They hung tough and made their own luck in the end, but the Panthers were lucky to get out of jail last week against the Tigers, completing just 60% (25/42), missing 30 tackles and committing 16 errors. The Titans are due to win so the Panthers can't afford a repeat performance.
And another thing ...
The last time these two teams met at Cbus Super Stadium, the Panthers got home in a golden point thriller 17-16. The Titans will be looking for a big performance to celebrate the achievement of fullback Michael Gordon, who plays his 250th game against one of his former clubs. That bit of inspiration could be the little spark the Titans need.