You’ll be scarce to find a more important game in the race for the finals this weekend when the Titans visit Pepper Stadium on Saturday afternoon.

With both sides sitting on the periphery of a finals spot, victory on the weekend could see the Panthers enter the top half and all but end the Titans hopes of playing in September. A loss would see the Titans draw level on 20 points and potentially create a four-way log jam in ninth position just one win behind the eighth placed Dragons.

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A backs-to-the-wall victory in New Zealand kept the Panthers in pole position to snatch a finals berth. After losing captain Matt Moylan in the lead up and stand-in skipper Trent Merrin mid-game, Nathan Cleary stood tall to guide the Panthers to a 34-22 win when there were plenty of excuses for the side to lay down.

The midfield maestro was at his devastating best, scoring 22 of his sides’ points thanks to his first professional hat-trick and five goals, as well as laying off two try assists to go with two line breaks and 109 running metres.

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The win did come at a cost, though, with Merrin sustaining a knee injury that is expected to sideline him for up to two months.

Despite the loss of Merrin, the Panthers are able to recall the cavalry with Moylan and Peter Wallace named to make their returns this weekend. Try-scoring debutant Tyrone May and Mitch Rein accommodate their return, while Moses Leota is named to replace Merrin at lock.