The Panthers have kept their recent run of good rolling, continuing their finals push tonight at the expense of the Gold Coast, downing a gallant but defensively feeble Titans 36-22 at Skilled Park.
Penrith’s season was starting to look precarious, boasting just one win from their past six encounters, but the broad shoulders of Frank Pritchard carried the Panthers to victory.
The Kiwi international was nothing shot of phenomenal for the visitors, and was a constant threat, scoring twice and setting up a try for Michael Jennings, despite carrying a shoulder injury into the game.
The Titans come-from-behind win over the Roosters last week just served to paper over the gaping cracks in their formerly formidable defensive line, as they were alarmingly shown up on their home patch.
Gold Coast conceded 28 points in the opening half last week against the Roosters, and their defence looked similarly porous for much of the game against a side ranked below them on the ladder.
The Panthers looked set to cruise to victory when a stripping penalty against Anthony Laffranchi gave Michael Gordon a gift two points to extend the Panthers lead out to 30-16, but the Titans briefly breathed life back into the contest in the 66th minute, when Michael Hodgson barged his way over next to the posts.
Mat Rogers slotted the extras to close the gap to just eight points with 13 minutes to play, giving a healthy home crowd reason to cheer.
But the visitors sealed the deal in the 75th minute courtesy of a rampaging Pritchard, with Gordon’s extras providing the 14-point final margin.
The home side leaked the first of six tries in just the third minute.
A poor attempted intercept from Mat Rogers gave the Panthers an overlap, and despite the fact Preston Campbell foiled a certain four pointer by knocking down a pass meant for an unmarked Rhys Wesser, the Panthers were able to regather and cross through Gordon.
The returning winger then nailed the extras from the touchline to put the visitors up by six.
But scoring points hasn’t been a problem for the Titans in the absence of Scott Prince, with Rogers stepping impressively into the play-making breach.
The Gold Coast’s newest superstar, Jordan Rapana, soared above another rookie in Lachie Coote to collect a Rogers cross-field bomb, touching down after a brief juggle for his third try in 88 minutes of top grade football.
Ill-discipline from the Panthers continued to provide the Titans with quality field position off the back of penalties, and the Gold Coast soon were in front through a try to Luke O’Dwyer, with Rogers’ splitting the uprights from the touchline to make it 10-6 after 19 minutes.
Momentum continued to sway back and forth on the back of possession, and again a penalty proved the catalyst for points, when Coote was collected by a 27th minute coat-hanger from Rogers that will attract the attention of the match review panel.
From the subsequent penalty the Panthers found the line via a clever face ball from Luke Lewis to Pritchard, with Gordon’s extras giving the Panthers a slender 12-10 advantage.
Penrith extended their lead in the shadows of the break when Pritchard produced a magic one-arm offload to put Jennings in to score, giving the Panthers and 18-10 lead at the break after Gordon added the extras.
It took the Titans less then two minutes to put a dent in the Panthers half-time lead through a hard-running Laffranchi, with the Panthers lead reduced to just two points following Rogers conversion from adjacent to the posts.
But it didn’t take the Panthers long to restore their eight-point buffer, and it was courtesy of the sublime skills of Gordon.
The fleet-footed winger grounded a Lewis grubber millimetres inside the dead ball line, then slotted the conversion from out wide to make it 24-16 with half an hour to play.
Penrith continued to find gaps in an increasingly ragged Titans defensive line, and went further in front through Wesser just a minute later, to give the visitors a 12-point break.
PENRITH 36 (M Gordon 2 F Pritchard 2 M Jennings R Wesser tries M Gordon 6 goals)
GOLD COAST 22 (M Hodgson A Laffranchi L O’Dwyer J Rapana tries M Rogers 3 goals)