League: Panthers back on top 8 track

Panthers 36
Titans 22

The Panthers got their top-eight ambitions back on track last night while dealing a blow to the Titans' own chances of making the playoffs for the first time in their history.

Both sides remain in the top eight but with such a large chasing pack waiting in the wings, every game in the final eight weeks of the regular season is vital.

The Panthers were patently aware of this when they were beaten by the Knights last weekend and needed a good result last night with two games against the Sea Eagles and another against the Storm still to play.

The pressure is mounting on the Titans, who for so long were among the pacesetters, and many expect them to slip away from contention. The odds are certainly against them, as their co-captains, Scott Prince and Luke Bailey, are out for the rest of the season and the fact five of their last seven games are away from the safety of Skilled Park.

They showed last weekend they shouldn't be written off so easily when they upset the Roosters in Sydney. But last night's result was a significant blow to their chances.

The Titans actually started the better of the two sides last night, even though they conceded the opening try to Michael Gordon in the third minute.

They dominated possession and field position and converted it into points with tries to winger Jordan Rapana and a fit-again Luke O'Dwyer to lead 10-6.

The Wellington-born Rapana, 18, has made an immediate impression since being elevated from the Toyota Cup side and last night grabbed his third try in just his second NRL match.

Much like the famous former basketballer who shares his name, he has incredible elevation and soared above his opposite to snatch a Mat Rogers bomb in the eighth minute.

The Panthers have proved to be a useful outfit in 2008 and managed to go to halftime with a handy 18-10 lead on the back of more possession and tries to Frank Pritchard and Michael Jennings.

They are a good side to watch, as they are not afraid to push the pass or try the unexpected. In Pritchard they have a player off whom others can feed and in grizzled veteran Petero Civoniceva they have a player others can follow.

Pritchard was a constant danger, scoring two tries and setting up another two, while Civoniceva made sure someone did the hard work around the ruck both on attack and defence.

Although the Titans reduced the gap to two points 90 seconds after the break, when Anthony Laffranchi muscled over, two Panthers tries in three minutes gave the visitors a decisive 28-16 advantage and Pritchard deservedly rounded off the scoring five minutes from time.

Titans 22 (J. Rapana, L. O'Dwyer, A. Laffranchi, M. Hodgson tries, M. Rogers 3 gls) Panthers 36 (M. Gordon 2, F. Pritchard 2, M. Jennings, R. Wesser tries, Gordon 6 gls). HT: 10-18.

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