Gold Coast are sweating on the fitness of superstar Jarryd Hayne ahead of their crucial NRL clash with Penrith on Saturday.
Named to play in his preferred fullback position for the first time since joining the Titans, Hayne is in doubt due to a corked calf suffered in last weekend’s win over Newcastle.
A win over the seventh-placed Panthers would be enough for the eighth-placed Titans to secure finals football for the first time since 2010, so coach Neil Henry will be understandably keen for the two-time Dally M medallist to play.
If Hayne can’t prove his fitness the Titans will bring David Mead back into the lineup after he was dropped to make way for Hayne’s switch from the halves to fullback.
Penrith coach Anthony Griffin is wary of the Hayne factor, admitting his form in his three matches since returning to the game following stints in American football and sevens rugby had been beyond expectation.
“To be able to jump straight back in and have the impact that he’s had, I think he’s better than what he was before he left,” Griffin said.
“He’s probably got a lot of confidence out of what he’s done with his life in general.
“I’d say he’s much better.”
Hayne’s move to fullback means the Titans can pair halves Tyrone Roberts and Ash Taylor together for the first time in a month, although Roberts (flu) is another who is under a cloud heading into the match.
Rested against the Knights, Taylor returns in time to face off with Panthers’ rookie Nathan Cleary in a battle between the competition’s two boom halves.
Griffin knows Taylor well from his time at Brisbane and says the Titans’ youngster had done exceptionally well in 2016.
“He’s a really good boy Ash, he’s a tough competitor,” Griffin said.
“A little bit like Cleary, he’s jumped in this year, his first year in the NRL, and has really directed his team around well.
“It’s great for both clubs. It’s exciting when your young players are doing a job.”
TITANS v PANTHERS – Key match stats
* A win for either team will ensure they’re playing finals this year.
* Penrith have won their past three matches by 20 points or more, the first time they’ve won three straight since 2014.
* No Gold Coast team has ever won two matches in a season against Penrith.