The Titans went down to competition-leaders Panthers by 22-14 but not before the home side made them earn it with a gritty fightback full of character.
Penrith’s nine wins and a draw to be on 19 competition points is their best start to a season through 11 rounds.
The difference between the two teams was ultimately the vision of Penrith halfback Nathan Cleary who spotted overlaps on three occasions to swing their attack into gear and make the most of the advantage.
The 17 players that took the field for Penrith was the most inexperienced fielded by any club this round and boasted just 968 games between them due to the club’s mounting injury toll.
The Titans were forced into several late scratchings with Keegan Hipgrave (shoulder), Sam Lisone and Erin Clark ruled out, replaced by Sam Stone, Nathan Peats and Jai Whitbread.
There were moments in the second half where the Titans threatened to cap a weekend which started with the announcement of the signing of David Fifita on a three-year deal with a famous victory.
Fifita will be joining a side which is playing with heart and soul for coach Justin Holbrook and building a foundation that the Maroons forward will only add to.
The Titans gave the Panthers an invitation to score in the early stages by making multiple errors and the visitors obliged.
Cleary and Jarome Luai showed how dangerous quality halves can be when they link together, and the duo combined to put Josh Mansour over in the left corner.
The Panthers were without left-edge wrecking ball Viliame Kikau but had joy attacking down that left corridor. Cleary and Luai were soon at it again with Fisher-Harris slotting into a sweeping right to left play to send Stephen Crichton away to score.
Penrith threatened again but Luai’s grubber rebounded for Jamal Fogarty to scoop it up and race more than 90 metres for a try against the run of play and cut the deficit to six points.
The Titans lost a captain’s challenge when the NRL Bunker ruled an Ash Taylor hand had knocked the ball forward as Liam Martin offloaded. Minutes later Isaah Yeo, showcasing the form that has him in the frame for a NSW debut, danced his way through feeble defence and stretched out to give the Panthers a 16-4 lead.
Gold Coast have shown this year they don’t drop their heads easily and were soon back in the game when he a perfectly weighted Taylor grubber was planted just before the dead-ball line by Brian Kelly.
The crowd chanted “Titans, Titans” as the home side finished the half on fire. Fogarty and Taylor’s passing game went up a notch and Dale Copley stepped his way to within inches of the line before an alert Anthony Don barged over near the cornerpost to have the Gold Coast trailing 16-14 at the break.
Cleary noticed a chink in the defensive line in the 60th minute and spun the ball right where Brent Naden sent Malakai Watene-Zelezniak over with a pass that had Titans players remonstrating with the referee that it was forward.
The Titans did not give up and went close with several attacking raids but several precision Cleary kicks ensured the Panthers were able to keep the Gold Coast where they wanted them in the closing stages.