A contentious second-half try has helped an injury-hit Penrith to hold out Gold Coast 22-14 at a wet Cbus Super Stadium and regain the NRL ladder lead.
The Panthers were kept honest on Sunday by a gritty Titans but the visitors sealed the scrappy clash when Malakai Watene-Zelezniak crossed in the 61st minute, scoring off an apparent forward pass from Brent Naden.
Buoyed by the poaching of Brisbane back-rower David Fifita on a lucrative three-year deal from 2021, the third-last Titans punched above their weight in front of 5095 fans but couldn’t land a knockout blow on a depleted Panthers.
Penrith fielded the most-inexperienced team in the competition this weekend, their 17 boasting just 968 games after losing Dylan Edwards (hamstring), Api Koroisau (elbow), Dean Whare (leg) and star Viliame Kikau (calf).
However, they dug deep to clinch their sixth-straight win and move to their best season start after 11 games.
“It is possibly the youngest side I have ever coached. I thought today was always going to be a test of our systems and culture,” Panthers coach Ivan Cleary said.
“It was a test and we probably passed it. It wasn’t our best but take the hooker, fullback, strike back-rower and a centre out in one week and it is never going to be clean.”
Penrith moved to a 9-1-1 (win-draw-loss record), improving on their previous best of eight wins from the first 11 games in five previous seasons (1989, 1991, 2003, 2004, 2018).
Titans coach Justin Holbrook claimed they did not get the rub of the green but would not be drawn on whether he thought Naden’s pass was forward.
“We played with nothing going our way. All the 50-50s went against us … that doesn’t help when you are playing good sides,” he said.
“We weren’t good enough to win the game but I would have liked a few more opportunities.”
Penrith clung on to a 16-14 halftime lead after a fightback from the hosts which included two tries in the stanza’s final three minutes.
The signs looked ominous for the Titans when Penrith jumped to a 10-0 lead after carving up Gold Coast’s right edge.
Winger Josh Mansour (ninth minute) and centre Stephen Crichton (15th) finished off slick backline moves to score and have the home team reeling.
They looked like going over again but Titans halfback Jamal Fogarty snaffled up a Jarome Luai grubber to race 90m and score.
Penrith jumped ahead 16-4 when back-rower Isaah Yeo (31st) crashed over but the Titans weren’t done.
Centre Brian Kelly (37th) scored off an Ash Taylor grubber before winger Anthony Don also helped himself from a dummy-half blindside dive on halftime and it was game on.
The Titans had a late reshuffle with forwards Keegan Hipgrave (shoulder), Sam Lisone and Erin Clark replaced by Sam Stone, Nathan Peats and Jai Whitbread respectively.