They might be about to field the most inexperienced team in the competition this weekend, but Penrith hope it will be enough to get them back to the top of the table.
The Panthers were dealt a major blow this week after losing key players Dylan Edwards (hamstring), Api Koroisau (elbow) and Dean Whare (leg) to injury.
But the biggest blow came on Saturday, after star Viliame Kikau (calf) was also withdrawn from Sunday’s clash with Gold Coast at Cbus Super Stadium.
The sudden injury toll has left coach Ivan Cleary no choice but to field the greenest line-up this weekend, with the Panthers’ 17 boasting a combined 968 games.
Malakai Watene-Zelezniak and Mitch Kenny will make their season debuts, while youngsters Matt Burton and Caleb Aekins have been recalled.
“We’ve got our fair share of injuries this week. (We will be) fielding a very inexperienced side, by far the least experienced in the league,” Cleary said on Saturday.
“(It’s) definitely a challenge for our systems and culture. We’ve got some guys coming in that have been involved in some good stuff in the past here.
“It’s the sort of year where, because there’s no other football, guys are dying to get opportunities. I’m sure we’ll see that energy transferred on the field tomorrow.”
Cleary singled out the selection of Kenny, whose debut in the corresponding round last year coincided with a run of seven straight victories for Penrith.
“He came into the side at a very difficult time and provided a lot for our team. (I’m) looking forward to that new energy he can bring tomorrow,” Cleary said.
The Panthers take on a Titans side that will be buoyed by confirmation Brisbane star David Fifita will join the club on a three-year deal from next season.
While firebrand forward Keegan Hipgrave is in doubt, experienced pair Kevin Proctor and Dale Copley return from injury.
“We missed a couple of senior players last week and that was the difference,” Gold Coast coach Justin Holbrook said.
In some good news for the Panthers, most of their injured brigade are expected back within the next six weeks, including Brian To’o and Kurt Capewell.
“In the meantime there’s a whole lot of guys getting opportunities. Hopefully that’ll present us with some selection headaches down the track,” Cleary said.
Victory for Penrith against the 14th-placed Titans will lift them back past Parramatta and Melbourne to top spot on the competition table.
STATS THAT MATTER
* Since 2010, the Panthers have won just seven of 25 games in Queensland – the worst record of any team over this period.
* The Titans have lost 13 straight games against top-four opponents.
* A telling 21 of the Panthers’ 41 tries this season have come down their left – the most of any team in the league.