Penrith coach Anthony Griffin was in no mood to celebrate after the Panthers cemented a NRL finals berth, with key forward Reagan Campbell-Gillard taken to hospital with a suspected back fracture.
He was also unhappy about Penrith’s “dumb” first-half performance on Saturday night, which allowed Gold Coast back into the contest.
Matt Moylan’s field goal two minutes from fulltime sealed the 15-14 victory, but Griffin’s thoughts were centred on the Panthers allowing the Titans to recover from 14-0 at halftime.
The game at Cbus Super Stadium seemed to be heading into golden point after Tyrone Roberts kicked a penalty goal four minutes from time following a high tackle from Penrith’s Chris Grevsmuhl on Ryan James.
“It was terrible the way we let them back into the game,” Griffin said.
“It was a very dumb half of football.
“It’s nice to know that we’re definitely there (in top eight), but it’s going to have to be a lot better than that if we’re going to do something with the (finals) spot.”
One man Griffin praised was Tyrone Peachey, who made the crucial line break, bringing the ball to within 20m of the tryline and allowing Panthers skipper Moylan to coolly split the uprights to snatch the game.
But the Panthers have a nervous wait for news on Campbell-Gillard, whose season is likely over after being injured in a tackle.
But Penrith general manager Phil Gould later tweeted although the key forward was in pain, there was no suggestion of nerve or spinal damage.
“Still to have full X-ray however Doctor confident no long term issues. Painful now but expect full recovery in time,” he posted.
The pre-game focus was on Jarryd Hayne’s first match at fullback for two years, but he was outshone by his opposite number, Moylan, who scored the Panthers’ first try.
In the eighth minute, Moylan received the ball and cut inside off his right foot, racing past Titans defenders and touching down.
The lead was doubled in the 17th minute when, after Bryce Cartwright broke the line and was tackled by Hayne 10m out, the Panthers quickly spread it wide and Waqa Blake dived over.
Hayne had a chance to score the first try of his NRL return just before the break when he burst towards the line after an offload from Leivahu Pulu, but the Panthers’ No.1 stopped him.
Just after halftime, the Titans were back in it when Pulu was fed by Greg Bird 5m out and he carried three defenders over the line for his first NRL try.
Then Bird set up a dramatic finish when he stretched out over the line, in spite of the efforts of Moylan and Peter Wallace, to make it a two-point game.
The Titans need to beat North Queensland in Townsville next week or hope other results go their way.
Coach Neil Henry will keep an eye on Sunday’s Warriors-Wests Tigers clash, but backs his team to get a result next Saturday against the Cowboys.
“It’s not over. The destiny’s in our own hands,” Henry said.