LAST SAY: Tough call as Penrith focus solely on Titanic clash
Panthers coach Anthony Griffin has made the call to drop in-form replacement hooker Mitch Rein for the returning Peter Wallace, for this afternoon's crucial clash with the Gold Coast Titans at Pepper Stadium.
In five appearances in Wallace's absence due to a groin injury suffered a day out from being announced as NSW's Origin hooker for game one, Rein has been instrumental in Penrith winning four of those games during that period.
The ex-Dragon rake arguably has been the more efficient of the two in 2017, providing some much needed energy from dummy half and a high work rate in defence, averaging 43 metres and 36 tackles per game plus two tries to boot.
But while Panthers coach Anthony Griffin admits the decision not to accommodate Rein on the interchange bench and instead drop him back to the Intrust Super Premiership was a tough call, Peter Wallace was always going to be his preferred hooker once available for selection.
"Mitch Rein done a really good job over the past few weeks, but while it's a tough call on Mitch, Pete's probably been fit for a couple of weeks now," Griffin explained.
"(Peter) was really close last week but just wanted to make sure he was right.
"He's done a really good job getting himself ready to go and he'll do a good job for us tomorrow no doubt.
Wallace is one of two key inclusions for a Penrith side that will have to battle at least the next four-to-six weeks without influential middle-man, Trent Merrin (medial - knee) with skipper Matt Moylan (hamstring) set to return.
In his absence, half Nathan Cleary arguably produced the individual game of the season to lead Penrith to an important win over the Warriors.
But Cleary comes up against Titans young-gun Ashley Taylor, who was equally impressive in the Gold Coast's win against the defending premiers last Saturday and many see this head-to-head clash as a future Origin halves battle.
But despite grabbing all the attention in the wake of that performance across the Tasman, Griffin says it has been business as usual for the 19-year old half, and while he was pleased with the way Cleary stood up to take control of the team, he doesn't expect Moylan to take a backward step as a result.
"He doesn't change much Nathan. That's one of his strengths. He's a very grounded boy and he's trained really well this week," Griffin responded.
"I think for Nathan, last week was a good opportunity for him to take a lot more responsibility and he showed a lot of maturity in the way he did that.
"But while that will only add to his performance again tomorrow, it's good to have Matt back.
"The last time Matt played was against Manly and we had a good night so I don't see a lot of change there.
Photos: 77 Media and NRL Photos.
The clash against the Titans marks the start of four consecutive home games for the Panthers and five of their next six games overall.
But while that advantage could be crucial for Penrith's tightrope run into the finals, Griffin says the focus solely needs to be on a Titans side that is arguably the NRL's in-form team, having won three in a row and offer plenty of strike power and experience across the park.
"It doesn't matter who you play or where you play at this time of year, once you get past that Origin period everyone goes up another level and we're only worried about tomorrow against the Titans and whoever we play and wherever we play after that, we'll worry about that then," Griffin replied.
"They're a real serious football team, a really good team, the Titans.
"They've got a lot of experience across the park, got size off the bench, got class there with the young halfback Ashley Taylor and Jarrod Hayne out the back.
"(The Titans) have had their troubles this year with injuries and probably been the only thing holding them back.
"But they compete very hard and beaten the Sharks twice and beaten Melbourne once and it's going to be a really great game.
STAT ATTACK: PANTHERS V TITANS
PLAYED 15: PANTHERS 9 GOLD COAST 6
AT PEPPER: PANTHERS 3 TITANS 3
PANTHERS WINNING 3 OF THE LAST 5 PLAYED AND 3 OF THE LAST 5 PLAYED AT HOME
BIGGEST WIN: PANTHERS 40 TITANS 0 (2015)
BIGGEST LOSS: PANTHERS 6 TITANS 32 (2015)
ANTHONY GRIFFIN 4 NEIL HENRY 5 (GRIFFIN WINNING 3 OF THE LAST 4)
PETER WALLACE 14 WINS FROM 18 AGAINST TITANS CAREER BEST RECORD AGAINST ALL CLUBS
MATT MOYLAN LOOKING FOR 50TH NRL WIN.
DALE COPLEY PLAYS 100TH NRL GAME; WILL ZILLMAN PLAYS 150TH NRL GAME FOR TITANS.
ANTHONY DON NEEDS TWO TRIES TO REACH 50 NRL TRIES.
KEVIN PROCTOR WON 11 OF 12 PLAYED VERSUS PENRITH AND FIVE TRIES - BOTH CAREER HIGHS AGAINST ANY NRL CLUB.
NATHAN PEATS 4 TRIES VERSUS PENRITH - CAREER HIGH AGAINST ANY NRL CLUB.