In a game that was billed as the ‘Desperation Stakes’ the two lowest-scoring teams in the NRL put on a 54-point, nine-try thriller few could have predicted, the Titans recording their first win of the year with a 30-24 victory over the Panthers at Cbus Super Stadium.
Apart from breaking their duck for 2019 the win also gave veteran fullback Michael Gordon the perfect gift for his 250th NRL game.
At 24-all midway through the second half adrenalin got the better of Titans prop Jarrod Wallace, whose shoulder charge on Dallin Watene-Zelezniak sparked a full-blown melee but it electrified the small but boisterous crowd of 8,680.
They roared as a punishing defensive set on the Panthers’ tryline forced a Penrith mistake and went into a frenzy when despite a Bryce Cartwright fumble in the in-goal the Titans were awarded a penalty try due to interference by Tyrell Fuimaono in the 66th minute.
That would prove to be the difference in a pulsating final 20 minutes as the Titans broke their duck despite losing Ash Taylor in the 27th minute while Panthers co-captain Isaah Yeo also left the field with 15 minutes to play clutching his left shoulder.
Match: Titans v Panthers
Round 5 -
Venue: Cbus Super Stadium, Gold Coast
Taylor copped a knock on his knee in trying to stop a rampant Viliame Kikau and although he was cleared to return by the medical team, was not called on again by coach Garth Brennan.
Stretching the Titans defence thin with shifts from one edge to the other, Penrith found success in the eighth minute going straight through the middle, a clever pass from James Fisher-Harris sending James Maloney through a yawning chasm directly between the posts.
With shifts of their own and some enterprising football the Titans managed to do something they hadn’t been able to all season; score a try inside the opening 20 minutes.
With Kevin Proctor finding some space on the right edge it was the combination of Taylor and Tyrone Roberts that enabled the Titans to draw level at the 16-minute mark, Roberts first to the ball after Maloney fumbled Taylor’s grubber into the in-goal.
Quick-thinking from a quick tap near halfway by milestone man Gordon put the Titans deep into Penrith territory on the resumption and with the shackles broken again came away with points.
Anthony Don soared high to catch a Roberts kick before being flung across the try-line by Panthers opposite Josh Mansour, their 12-6 lead at the quarter mark the first time Gold Coast had led in a game all season.
Pounding away at the Titans’ middle, Penrith reverted to the pet-play of under-6 coaches the country over, setting the biggest hombre on the field loose at five hapless defenders as Kikau thundered his way over to level the scores through 28 minutes.
Inspired by a surging Brian Kelly charge close to the line, the Titans attack that had never got out of first gear in the four weeks prior was suddenly building pressure and asking pertinent questions, Tyrone Peachey bobbing up on the opposite side of the field to put Gordon across untouched three minutes before the break.
Penalty try awarded to Bryce Cartwright
Their unfamiliar position of an 18-12 lead at half-time lasted just three minutes before Fisher-Harris breezed past some non-existent goal-line defence.
Some brilliant AJ Brimson footwork confounded the Penrith defence – and perhaps even the officials – as his apparent try in the north-eastern corner in the 45th minute was denied due to obstruction before he had even touched down.
If Titans fans felt hard done by then they were positively fuming when six tackles later Penrith winger Josh Mansour crossed at the opposite end courtesy of a spectacular one-handed, round-the-corner pass from Nathan Cleary to put the Panthers six to the better.
Heads that had dropped were up again shortly after when Wallace crashed over beside the posts to once again level the scores, the resolve that had been missing and the belief Brennan had been extolling finally bubbling to the surface.