Matt Harris, Queensland Correspondent, NRL.com
Titans v Eels
Cbus Super Stadium
Titans coach John Cartwright spoke with pride when claiming Sunday's victory against the Knights was one of the best in the club's history. The Titans had almost a dozen players out through injury and suspension, while also having to overcome an emotional crowd who came out to support Alex McKinnon in the RiseForAlex Round.
It was a game the Knights were supposed to win considering the circumstances, so Cartwright will hope the 22-8 result wasn't another one-off for his side as they look to repay the Cbus Super Stadium faithful with victory at home for first time since Round 6.
The Titans' home record this season has been shocking with only two wins out of nine; their last win at Robina came in April against the Broncos at a time when the Titans were surprise ladder leaders despite having a negative points differential. It also marked the last time the Titans won back-to-back games.
The only thing saving their season at the moment is an impressive 6-2 away record which is currently the NRL's best. So to simulate away games, Cartwright is tossing up the idea of taking his team into camp to replicate the environment of playing away instead of his players enjoying the creature comforts of their lavish coastal homes.
It's an idea that's been tried before – most recently by the Raiders in 2012 when then-coach David Furner trialled the move with success. Given the Titans have fallen away so badly this season, they'll take all the help they can get. Having won six of their first eight games this year, a lot has changed for the Titans since then as they have gone on to lose seven of their past nine games.
They currently sit 11th on the ladder, two places above the Eels who are level with the Titans on 20 competition points. Both sides have an inferior for-and-against to those above them on the ladder meaning that they are virtually two wins behind the eighth-placed Storm who are on 22 points.
The Eels are currently on a four-game losing streak with their last win coming against the 'Dogs in Round 14. Eels' skipper Tim Mannah stated after Parra's 32-12 loss to Souths last Friday that he still believes his side can make a late charge towards the finals and he may be right – five out of their remaining seven games are against teams lower than them on the ladder.
If they can bring the chocolates home from the Gold Coast, their remaining games are a slightly easier proposition with Cronulla (away), then three straight home games against the Raiders, Bulldogs and Sea Eagles and their final two games away against the Knights and Raiders again.
However, with only seven rounds remaining the loser of Saturday's match can probably start planning for Mad Monday, as they would be required to win five out of their next six games to make the finals.
In team news, Titans' co-captain Greg Bird returns from suspension, but they are without William Zillman, David Mead and Luke Bailey who are all missing through hamstring injuries. Aidan Sezer is still around two weeks away from returning from a pectoral injury suffered against the Broncos in Round 10. Dave Taylor will remain in the centres after impressing against the Knights with Maurice Blair and Cody Nelson added to a five-man bench.
For the Eels, Brad Arthur has named the same 17 that lost to Souths, although co-captain Tim Mannah is still absent with injury.
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Watch Out Titans: The Eels current front-row pairing of Junior Paulo and Fuifui Moimoi are two of the game's most destructive runners of the ball when they’re on song. Last week Moimoi produced his best figures of the season, making 105 metres and 22 tackles, while Paulo made 116 metres against the formidable Rabbitohs pack. With Tim Mannah likely to be another week away from an injury return, this pair needs to step up to another level against the likes of Myles, Bird and Minichiello or else the Eels will face an uphill battle to remain in the contest.
Watch Out Eels: The Titans' left edge of Dave Taylor and Kalifa Faifai Loa absolutely carved up the metres against the Knights last weekend. The fledging pairing made an incredible 419 metres between one another while also combining for a total of 14 tackle breaks, two line breaks and a try scored by Taylor. The 'Coal Train' has been particularly impressive since the conclusion of the Origin Series, making 317 metres and 43 tackles in his past two outings.
Plays To Watch: Any player who has scored a combined total of 22 tries and try assists in 14 games must be doing something right. That man is Jarryd Hayne. The Eels' flyer has arguably had a career-best season and continues to blossom. Almost everything the Eels do is constructed around the 26-year-old, making it increasingly difficult for teams to defend against him because they don't know whether he'll kick, pass or run. His 14 line breaks and 77 tackle breaks this season suggest the Titans will need to be wary of Hayne's destructive running game on Saturday night.
Where It Will Be Won: With not much to split either side, accurate goal-kicking could prove the difference on Saturday night. However, both sides have struggled in that department this season with their current kick takers struggling to boot the Steeden over the black dot with any form of regularity. Aidan Sezer is still sidelined for the Titans and Greg Bird is reluctant to take on kicking duties meaning that Kevin Gordon has been booting the ball lately but only at an average strike rate of 65 per cent. Chris Sandow has the kicking duties for the Eels and also has a dismal conversion rate this season, kicking at 64 per cent.
The History: Played 10; Titans 7, Eels 3. The Titans have won the past three clashes against the Eels scoring 94 points in the process, although it was a close game the last time these two played at Robina with the Titans having to come from behind to defeat Parramatta 28-22.
Gold Coast has only lost once before when hosting the Eels and that was back in Round 26, 2011. On that occasion both sides were playing to avoid the wooden spoon with that unwanted honour eventually falling to the Titans who were whipped 32-12 by the Eels. The Titans have never won four matches in a row against the Eels so they can create a little piece of history with victory on Saturday.
What Are The Odds:
Another even betting game with only slightly more interest in the Eels, who haven’t been in great form of late. According to Sportsbet, Parramatta 1-12 is the popular option in margin betting. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match Officials: Referee – Shayne Hayne; Assistant Referee – Adam Gee; Touch Judges – Jeff Younis and Clayton Sharpe; Video Referees – Steve Clark and Ben Galea.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live 5.30pm.
The Way We See It: This game is almost do-or-die for both sides as a loss would make a late charge towards the finals almost impossible. Impressive last week against the Knights, the Titans must translate this form when playing at home. Greg Bird is back for the Titans which should provide them with a boost, but potentially the biggest boost the Titans could receive is a strong home crowd urging them towards victory. Given that the Eels rarely win on the road, the Titans should win in a close encounter. Titans by six points.