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Jennings remaining positive despite Panthers' ability to self-combust

Date

Steve Mascord

TITANS 36 PANTHERS 18

Titans players celebrate a try in their win against the Penrith Panthers at Skilled Park.

Titans players celebrate a try in their win against the Penrith Panthers at Skilled Park. Photo: Matt Roberts

Michael Jennings last night summed up the predicament Penrith find themselves in in simple terms. ''We've got to win every game from now on,'' he said as he left Skilled Park.

MATCH STATS

The NSW centre had just played in a 36-18 loss to Gold Coast that came despite the Titans losing three players - including NSW star Greg Bird - to injury in the first 45 minutes.

Under new coach Ivan Cleary, the Panthers have won just four times this year and host Parramatta in a possible wooden-spoon duel on Saturday. Before yesterday's defeat they lost Luke Lewis (groin), Josh Mansour (back), Travis Burns (eye) and Sam McKendry (calf) from their nominated team and underwent a reshuffle so dramatic some players even changed their jersey numbers, a rarity in the modern game.

But the upheavals at Penrith, well documented in recent weeks, go much deeper and were exemplified by fullback Lachlan Coote being dropped, getting a late reprieve for Mansour yesterday and then presenting Gold Coast with two gift tries on a forgettable afternoon.

''It's not the best season - we're doing it tough,'' Jennings told the Herald as he made his way to the team bus, ''But … we've got to come back from this. We've got to move past everything.

''Obviously it is tough with new coaches and all that, and all their new systems and structures but we've trained all off-season for it, so we've got to build, we shouldn't use that as an excuse for our performances. It's us boys out there.

''[It] doesn't help with a couple of boys out. It wasn't the best prep but you've got to come back strong from that. We've just got to stick together. Then we've just got to come to Parramatta, worry about that game and build from that.''

Despite his walking wounded - Burns seems to have played half of Monday night with a fractured eye socket - Cleary left the door ajar for more changes.

''It's a balance, it's always the same,'' he said after the six tries-to-three defeat. ''You've just got to work at getting the best combination you can and this week will be no different. We'll get the best team that we can muster together and go from there.''

When Gold Coast led 6-0 after 11 minutes yesterday, things looked OK for the Panthers. Titans five-eighth Aidan Sezer had come up with the ball after a Scott Prince bomb had been passed from Kevin Gordon to Steve Michaels but Beau Champion (ankle) was gone and Matt Srama (shoulder) was on his way.

Jennings burst into the clear at 15 minutes but was run down by Prince and Gordon.

Not long afterwards, captain Prince intercepted a wayward Coote pass 20 metres from the Titans' line and offloaded to a flying David Mead who singed the grass on the way to Gold Coast's second try.

Coote was consoled by teammates but his later fumble was snapped up by Michaels for Gold Coast's next try, and in the second half the former City Origin custodian was unceremoniously hooked by Cleary. ''You saw the game,'' the coach said. ''It was a bit of an opportunity, at that stage of the game, to see Arana [Taumata] at fullback and give Harry [Seijka] some more time.''

So by the time Bird departed with his pectoral muscle problem, Penrith were 24-0 in a hole following Sezer's second. The loss of three players did not dent Gold Coast's confidence, Prince said, because ''you don't really realise it when you're out there''.

The twinkle-toed effort of South Australian junior Brenton Lawrence to run 40 metres on the way to his 50th-minute try was the Titans' summit yesterday.

Penrith finished with a three-try flourish, Taumata grounding Luke Walsh's kick, Cameron Ciraldo crashing over and Ryan Simpkins taking four points back off his former club.

During this final 21 minutes, Gold Coast also managed a last try, to Luke O'Dwyer, who had come on as Champion's replacement.

''I didn't expect that,'' Cleary said. ''Yeah, we could probably reach out for some excuses and we did have some disruptions, but it was an exercise in self-mutilation for us. We directly handed them two tries …''

GOLD COAST 36 (A Sezer 2 B Lawrence D Mead S Michaels L O'Dwyer tries S Prince 6 goals) bt PENRITH 18 (C Ciraldo R Simpkins A Taumata tries L Walsh 3 goals) at Skilled Park. Referee: Gerard Sutton, Phil Haines. Crowd: 11,591.

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