Roosters v Titans
Call for extra Kleenex people, this is going to get emotional.
Within 24 hours of each other two loyal servants announced they would be leaving their respective clubs, one eyeing a third premiership and 300 games to complete a fairytale farewell while the other only has enough energy to get through one more game as head coach.
Already entrenched as one of the Sydney Roosters' favourite sons and greatest ever players, captain Anthony Minichiello announced on Monday that this, his 15th season in the NRL, would be his last, while on Tuesday Titans coach John Cartwright dropped a bombshell by announcing that he would be stepping down in just seven days' time after eight seasons at the helm.
He has been the only coach the Gold Coast franchise has ever known and even in his most vulnerable moment Cartwright still reaffirmed his intent to keep the club he loves in finals contention for one more week on his watch at least.
It's astonishing to think that four months ago the club was sitting on the top of the competition ladder and having publicly backed their coach under mounting pressure over the past month, Titans players get one last chance to do it for 'Carty'.
Of course, the men who serve so stoutly under captain Minichiello won't want their skipper's aspirations skittled by a bunch of fired-up footballers from north of the border so it promises to be an explosive start to this one.
Last year's win in Round 25 by a battered and bruised bit-part Titans team was one of the most courageous in their history and if they hope to keep the finals flame flickering for a further seven days, they need to deliver something similar on Monday night.
The Titans have received a boost with the return of William Zillman from a hamstring injury but lose David Mead who suffered a recurrence of his hamstring injury against the Cowboys. Five-eighth Aidan Sezer is a chance of playing depending on how he fares in contact sessions later in the week.
For the Roosters, Jake Friend looks set to be sidelined for up to a month with a hamstring injury, his place at hooker taken by Heath L'Estrange.
And if there wasn't enough incentive to get out to Allianz on Monday night and show your support, the first 5,000 Roosters fans through the gates will receive a limited edition premiership pennant commemorating the 2013 triumph.
There is a special General Admission Double Pass on offer for $40 while families can purchase a $50 Family Pass that includes entry for two adults and two children or one adult and three children.
Get your ticket to NRL Round 22Watch Out Roosters:
When Greg Bird was first dropped off at pre-school in Maitland, the legend goes that he waddled up to the biggest kid in the sandpit and threw a great big handful of sand right in his face. The bigger the battle the more 'Birdy' comes to the fore and he will have mixed memories of another Roosters rematch. As players were falling all around him last year Bird went to trainer Trevor Gillmeister looking for a breather, only to be told he was being moved into the middle for more heavy lifting. Since returning from his suspension incurred in Origin III two weeks ago Bird hasn't been the dominant figure many expected but a date with some old enemies might be just what he needs to deliver a typically inspirational performance for his team. Bird hasn't lost to the Roosters since the Preliminary Final of 2010 and his side's season hinges on that record staying intact.
Watch Out Titans: He may be calling time on an illustrious career in a few short weeks but Anthony Minichiello is on course to deliver his most productive try-scoring haul in almost a decade if his recent run continues. For just the second time since 2005 Minichiello has scored at least 10 tries in a season, much of which is owed to his positional switching in games with winger Roger Tuivasa-Sheck. Not only can 'Mini' start a set on the right note with a courageous return from deep in Roosters territory, but he can finish in ways reminiscent of his first forays into first grade. In the past two weeks Minichiello has run for more than 100 metres in each game and made a total of seven tackle breaks so rest assured this isn't an old bloke limping meekly into retirement. There's plenty of life in those legs yet.
Plays To Watch: Wayne Bennett may have called South Sydney predictable last weekend but there will be no surprises in the opposition coach's box when Roosters half Mitchell Pearce drifts left across the field towards an onslaught of attacking options. Whether they pioneered the use of two block runners is up to historians and students of videotape but there's not a team in the competition that does it better and to greater effect. The Titans must shut down the Roosters go-forward otherwise they will be overwhelmed by a flood of surging red-white-and-blue jerseys on the left edge that is bursting with intent following the returns from injury of Boyd Cordner and now Michael Jennings. The Titans have enjoyed mixed success with Dave Taylor in the centres but there's no question that he and right centre James Roberts are the side's most potent attacking weapons.
Where It Will Be Won: You might call it the John Cartwright One Week Body Transformation but whichever way you spin it the Titans know that they need to be tighter around the middle if they hope to maintain their excellent record against the big boys from Bondi. The absence of Sonny Bill Williams and Jake Friend is somewhat helpful in regards to containing a forward pack that proved unstoppable in 2013 but the Titans are determined to spend this week tightening up a middle third that was run roughshod over by the Cowboys last weekend. Returning from extended layoffs with injury Matt Scott (194 metres) and Gavin Cooper (155m) had a field day against the Titans while Jason Taumalolo racked up 159m as the Cowboys ran for more than 400m more than their opponents. Somewhat surprisingly the Titans boast a 7-4 winning record against the Roosters but with Jared Waerea-Hargreaves, Boyd Cordner and Aidan Guerra all busting through the 100m mark against the Dragons last weekend, the dominant team in the middle third will gain much of the ascendancy.
History: Played 11; Roosters 4; Titans 7. Yes, you read that right, the Titans have a winning record against the Roosters of almost 2:1 since their introduction in 2007, a period in which the boys from Bondi have fluctuated between dominant and dreadful. Last year's 30-22 victory was one of the more heroic in Gold Coast's short history while in 2012 William Zillman scored twice in a convincing 36-16, both of which were at Allianz. Less than 10 points has separated these two teams in seven o the 11 occasions they have met.
What Are The Odds:
Surprisingly there’s been as much money for the Titans as there has been for the Roosters in head-to-head betting, but the Roosters remain rock solid favourites. The Titans are getting some interest at the +12.5. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match Officials: Referee – Matt Cecchin; Assistant Referee – Henry Perenara; Touch Judges – Adam Reid and Rickey MacFarlane; Video Referees – Bernard Sutton and Steve Folkes.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live 7pm.
How We See It: The loss of Jake Friend coupled with the emotion surrounding the resignation of Titans coach John Cartwright makes this an extremely dangerous game for a Roosters team still building into their best form. If the Roosters can find a way to post a couple of quick tries they may kill off whatever fighting spirit the Titans have left but the longer the visitors can stay in the game, the more they will fancy their chances. The Titans will bring plenty of emotion to what is likely to be a muted atmosphere but it is unlikely to be enough. Roosters by eight points.