Taylor and Cleary battle to save their clubs’ seasons

Jack Aubrey Roar Guru

By , Jack Aubrey is a Roar Guru

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    The Panthers and Titans were the two surprise packets of 2016 but on Saturday they will do battle to keep their finals flame flickering.

    While it is not sudden death just yet, the Titans in particular are desperate to win and stay within touch of eighth spot on the ladder, shakily held by the Dragons at the moment.

    The Panthers are a win above the Titans, and don’t want to have their momentum halted as they keep their late-season surge going. If the Panthers lose on Saturday they will be joined by the Titans on eight wins. Either side would then likely need to win at least four out of their last six

    Both last start winners, the Panthers and Titans had plenty to be optimistic about last round, off the back of their respective half-backs Nathan Cleary and Ashley Taylor.

    The Panthers on Friday night had Matt Moylan withdraw late against the Warriors in Auckland. Already missing seasoned campaigner Peter Wallace, and having stand in captain Trent Merrin leave the field 27 minutes in, it was a Panthers side low on experience, even for them.

    Nathan Cleary went to another gear on the night. He scored three of his own, laid on two, and started a movement for debutant Tyrone May to score. In what was another must win clash, the Warriors far more experienced spine still couldn’t get the job done against a red-hot Cleary.

    Cleary has been solid without being outstanding in his second season, but his game on Friday was of the highest order. He took the game by the scruff of the neck and did it all himself on three occasions. The Panthers will need more of the same from him, and his accurate goal kicking if they are to get over the Titans on Saturday.

    Little more than 24 hours later and Ash Taylor was the star of the show on a sodden Gold Coast against the reigning premiers.

    Ashley Taylor Gold Coast Titans NRL Rugby League 2017

    (AAP Image/Dave Hunt)

    Two tries and two assists says it all from a young man who will no doubt play more rep football, perhaps against his opposite number at the Panthers.

    While the conditions won’t be the same this Saturday, Taylor played them perfectly against the Sharks. Like Cleary he could do it all. Whether he chose to run, kick or pass, it was the right option, and he is the man the Titans need to keep their season going.

    So who wins this Saturday?

    The Titans are more than a chance. They have won three in a row, their latest against the premiers, and they are starting to get their full complement back on the park.

    With no shortage of strike players in Konrad Hurrell, Jarryd Hayne, Tony Don and now Taylor finding some form they would be a side that teams would fear in the finals. Goal kicking can certainly be a worry though, and in a game that might go to the wire, they need to be turning four into six.

    The Panthers had a hiccup against the Rabbitohs a fortnight ago and looked gone for the season. Aside from that in the last eight weeks they have won six times and were beaten by the Cowboys by two at the death. They are a desperate and went on a run not dissimilar to this 12 months ago.

    The Panthers may also have Moylan, Wallace and Merrin to come back into the side.

    This could be the game of the round. Neither side is a noted defensive unit, and both have laid some quality attack on at points this season.

    This could come down to which number seven can best replicate their last performance. It may be one of those games where either is called upon in the clutch to lay on a try, slot a conversion, or be the golden-point hero.

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