The battle between Titans halfback Albert Kelly and his Broncos opposite Ben Hunt will be a key feature of the south-east Queensland derby. Copyright: Col Whelan/NRL Photos Credit: NRL Photos Copyright: NRL Photos
Titans v Broncos
Cbus Super Stadium
They have made fewer line breaks than any other team in the competition, they have made more errors than any other team, they rank second to bottom for incomplete sets, are third worst at missing tackles and, ladies and gentlemen, the Gold Coast Titans are your competition leaders after five weeks of the 2014 Telstra Premiership.
As if tipsters needed any further proof that it has been a topsy-turvy start to the season that the Titans can be outright competition leaders despite having a negative points differential is a 60-year phenomenon in the making.
Stats gurus trawled the record books last weekend and discovered that the last time a side led the competition outright despite their for-and-against being on the red side of the ledger was Canterbury way back in Round 16, 1953. If there's a better stat to come out of the 2014 season I can't wait to hear it.
A prominent journalist in Brisbane couldn't resist the juicy odds on offer of North Queensland being the best performed Queensland side this season yet a little over a month later we have the table-topping Titans hosting the third-placed Broncos who have enjoyed a resurgence of their own.
Yes, there are still 21 weeks before our man does his dough but it sets up a salivating south-east Queensland showdown for two sets of fans who have had little to get excited about for the past two seasons.
While the Titans have slogged their way to the top of the mountain with wins of twelve, six, two and one point, the Broncos have been enterprising even in defeat in recent weeks as the two Bens, Hunt and Barba, grow in confidence and Josh Hoffman adjusts to life as a five-eighth.
The smallest crowd that has assembled to watch these teams do battle since the Titans' inception in 2007 is 20,067; even the Cbus Super Snake will need a ticket to get in this Friday night.
Watch Out Broncos: Did we see in Sunday's upset win over the Storm the emergence of a new David Taylor? There were only two offloads and three tackle breaks but his work rate was up significantly on what would be considered normal output for the 'Coal Train'. His 191.4 metres against the Storm was almost 50 metres better than his previous best so far in 2014 and is more in line with the numbers he was delivering at the back end of 2014.
Playing against the club that handed him his NRL debut as a 17-year-old, there is sure to be some extra sting in the Taylor charges and if he can reproduce the sheer numbers that he did against Melbourne, the Broncos will have a hard time keeping him under wraps for 80 minutes.
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Watch Out Titans: It took little more than 15 minutes for Justin Hodges to dispel any notion that a second long-term achilles injury would in any way temper his brilliance.
The Broncos have done a marvellous job to start the season in the fashion that they have without their backline talisman but with Hodges now back in the centres and not coming off the bench they are a whole lot more threatening on the right side of the field.
In his return from an eight-month layoff, Hodges laid on a try for Dale Copley by single-handedly dismantling the Parramatta left-edge defence and while the rest of his side's attack stuttered, Hodges looked capable of breaking the Eels apart with almost every touch of the footy.
He ran for 126 metres, had three offloads, a try assist and a line break assist but, most importantly, he got through it mentally unscathed and ready for more.
Plays To Watch: His one-handed way of carrying the footy may not do good things for coach John Cartwright's stress levels but the introduction of Brad Takairangi back into the Titans centres in the past two weeks has added an extra dimension to their attack.
Keeping his long arms out of the reach of defenders, Takairangi has the ability to draw opposition wingers in off their wing in an attempt to shut him down, which is almost precisely when he offloads to his outside support. Look for Takairangi to unsettle the Broncos' defence with the ever-threatening offload.
The major area of concern for the Titans defence will be a fully-stocked Brisbane right-side attack now that Hodges has been reintroduced into the mix.
Ben Hunt continues to grow in confidence and as he spends the majority of the time on the right he now has a glut of choices on his outside. Does he hit a rampaging Matt Gillett back on the angle? Does he release Ben Barba out the back? Or does he hit Hodges with a cut-out pass and let the big man do his thing with room to move?
Where It Will Be Won: Execution in attack has been difficult for both of these teams early in the season and with both displaying impressive defensive resolve it will come down to which team can take advantage of what may be limited opportunities.
Opportunities will be presented to the team that can dominate field position and possession and that often comes down to discipline. Only one team – the Wests Tigers – have conceded more penalties than the Titans through five rounds while the Broncos are the best behaved team in the competition having given away just 30.
The team that finishes on the positive side of the penalty ledger will go a long way to ensuring the scoreboard is similarly weighted in their favour.
The History: Played 15; Titans 4, Broncos 11. There have been lean pickings for the Titans in recent years with just one win from their past nine encounters, including back-to-back hidings dished out by the Broncos last season, first a 32-12 win in Round 5 and then a 32-6 shellacking in Round 10. But they're the exception to the rule; on six occasions only eight points or less has separated them at full-time.
What Are The Odds: The Broncos are the $1.68 favourites with Sportsbet.com.au, with the Titans the $2.15 outsiders but the punters give the Gold Coast a real shot. Some 55 per cent of the money has been on Brisbane. In terms of bets though there’s been more bets on the Titans.
Match Officials: Referees – Shayne Hayne & Chris James; Touch Judges – Russell Turner & Chris Butler; Video Referees – Luke Phillips & Paul Mellor.
The Way We See It: With an injury cloud continuing to hang over Titans five-eighth Aidan Sezer and the loss of Brad Tighe with a shoulder injury for a month, the Gold Coast again head into a game with a reshuffled backline. But they seem to thrive on adversity and will adopt a gritty, no-frills approach if there are a number of new combinations in play. The Broncos look a lot more settled with the return of Hodges and have a stranglehold on the Titans in recent years. The response of the Gold Coast fans to their team sitting on top of the table will be of significance because their team may need to feed off their energy. The short turnaround may hurt the home side; the Broncos by four points.