Nathan Cleary of the Panthers playing against the Knights.
Nathan Cleary of the Panthers playing against the Knights. CRAIG GOLDING

Titans wary of Cleary threat in do-or-die clash

IT'S the mouth-watering clash that could provide a sneak peek into the future for both the Queensland and NSW Origin set-ups.

Ashley Taylor and Nathan Cleary are being touted as future Origin halves for the Maroons and Blues.

But the future can wait.

Today the pair go head-to-head as Penrith and the Gold Coast play for the right to claim their season is still alive.

Both Cleary and Taylor were outstanding last week and instrumental in their teams' wins.

Taylor had two tries and two try assists in the Titans' 30-10 win against defending premiers Cronulla, while Cleary delivered a three-try effort in which he single-handedly dismantled New Zealand's all-star spine.

"Cleary is a couple of years younger than Ash, so he's done really well so far," Titans coach Neil Henry said.

"But there's certainly a bright future for both players."

Matt Moylan and Peter Wallace have both returned for the Panthers to help Cleary out.

"I think they'll definitely be stronger," Henry said of the Panthers team that will take on the Titans at the foot of the mountains this afternoon.

"There's more leadership there too with a couple of key players back, their captain back in Moylan.

"Cleary's been fantastic but I just think they're going to be stronger with those guys back in the team.

"Wallace has been out for several weeks but is a very solid competitor in the middle.

"They'll miss (Trent) Merrin a bit because he certainly adds a fair bit of variety in the middle but they certainly make up for that with those two guys back."


Peter Wallace of the Panthers passes the ball during their round 3 NRL match between the Penrith Panthers and the Sydney Roosters at Pepper Stadium in Sydney, Saturday, March 18, 2017.  (AAP Image/Dean Lewins) NO ARCHIVING, EDITORIAL USE ONLY
Peter Wallace of the Panthers returns from injury against the Titans. DEAN LEWINS

Cleary may have support today but he will still be a key weapon for the Panthers and one the Titans have to shut down.

"He's very calm, does the majority of their kicking, we saw he's certainly a runner," Henry said.

"What they have is two halves that will run the ball and take the line on, we saw examples of that last week when he got three tries.

"And certainly we need to be wary around our forwards because he will take the line on and Matt Moylan is a great runner of the ball.

"That just adds a bit of strike to their team and you need to defend the ball."

The Panthers sit just one win outside the eight in ninth place, with the Titans another two points behind but among four teams tied on 18 points.

The Gold Coast has to win at least five of its final seven games to make the finals but could miss out even then and today's clash is crucial to its slim hopes.

"It's one we need to win. They're all very important to us now given the context of where we are in the season and the games that are left and the gap to the top eight," Henry said.

"It might be 30 points to be at the bottom of the eight, so we need to get down there and get a win.

"It's a tough ask but the boys have been playing some good footy, we've got some confidence around our defence and that will be a key.

"If we can stop what they're doing with the ball - they're a very good attacking team - I'm confident we've got the points in us."