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Titans v Rabbitohs preview

Titans v Rabbitohs preview

Titans v Rabbitohs
Cbus Super Stadium
Saturday 5.30pm

With the representative weekend done and dusted the NRL season now enters the pre-Origin phase. Players with ambitions to play for their state need to lift their game to another level over the next two rounds as selectors from both sides of the border run the rule through the maybes and the maybe-nots.

The Titans have exceeded expectations so far this season and currently find themselves sitting in equal-first position heading into Round 9 with six wins and two losses, while the Rabbitohs have been hot and cold and are currently in seventh spot with four wins and four losses. Both teams are on just a one-match winning run, so neither side has much momentum heading into Saturday's game after last weekend's representative break.

Only time will tell whether the break will be a help or hindrance but if Souths can repeat their lightning-fast start against the Broncos – where they jumped out to a 14-0 lead after 15 minutes – then the Titans may find it harder to rope them back in the same fashion that Brisbane did.

In team news, Titans halves Aidan Sezer (ankle) and Albert Kelly (leg) will be given until Friday to prove their fitness, while William Zillman will make his return from a hamstring injury in the centres. A one-game suspension for Paul Carter opens the door for Matt Srama to return on the bench alongside Mark Ioane, Ryan James and Mark Minichiello.

Meanwhile, the Bunnies are sticking with the same 17 that did the job against the Broncos, with Joel Reddy, Ben Lowe and Joe Picker added to an extended bench.

In milestones, Adam Reynolds has an outside chance of reaching 500 NRL points on Saturday night; the Rabbitohs' halfback currently sits on 482 points and would need a crushing win by his side to come close to the milestone. Reynolds has reached 18 points twice in his career – against the Raiders in the 2012 semi-finals and the Wests Tigers in Round 10 last season.

For the home side, Greg Bird is one try short of 50 in the NRL, Ashley Harrison plays his 275th NRL match and Aidan Sezer is six goals short of 100 in the top-grade – at a conversion rate of 85 per cent.

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Watch Out Titans: While Josh Reynolds and Jarrod Mullen were duking it out in the City-Country clash on Sunday, John Sutton was resting a sore groin that prevented the 29-year-old from earning an Origin audition in Dubbo. With incumbent Blues' five-eighth James Maloney and another Origin hopeful, Todd Carney, nursing more serious injuries than the Rabbitohs' No.6, Saturday's match at Robina shapes as one of the last chances Sutton will have to impress NSW selectors.

The Kensington United junior is surprisingly creative for a man of his imposing size. At 190 centimetres and 105kg, Sutton's versatility (he can play lock or five-eighth) will increase his Origin chances, while his playmaking statistics this season have been impressive enough to warrant a call from Laurie Daley.

So far this season Sutton has made eight line break assists, equal fourth in the NRL and behind only Johnathan Thurston and James Maloney (nine), Cooper Cronk (10) and Mitchell Pearce (12). He has also contributed six try assists and 14 tackle breaks. An eye-catching display against the Titans is a must if Sutton wants any chance to snare his first Blues' jersey after making the NSW squad in 2013.

Watch Out Rabbitohs: Calls for Titans' flyer David Mead to become a shock selection in Laurie Daley's NSW side for Origin I on May 28 grew louder after the 25-year-old produced a scintillating performance for Country against City. The Marist Brothers Lismore junior has discovered a newfound freedom after a forced switch to fullback during the Round 3 clash against Canberra after regular No.1 William Zillman injured his hamstring.

Since his switch to custodian, Mead has bagged four tries (including his two tries against City), yet it's his powerful running ability which could pose trouble for the Bunnies. The Port Moresby-born speedster has made 21 tackle breaks this season (not including a whopping five tackle breaks for Country) and has made a total of 1139 run metres, averaging 142 metres per game - placing him 15th overall in the NRL for all run metres.

The pressure is on Mead to continue his recent flawless form as he pushes for Origin selection in the coming weeks.

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Plays To Watch: Greg Inglis set the benchmark for try of the season in Round 8 against the Broncos and all eyes at Robina will be fixed on the Kangaroos and Maroons centre.

After a solid, yet unspectacular performance against the Kiwis last Friday, Inglis returns to his usual club position of fullback. The 27-year-old doesn't see enough of the Steeden playing at left centre for the Aussies and Queensland, so playing from the back and chiming into the attacking line on both sides of the field causes headaches for the opposition defensive line.

Inglis demonstrated against the Broncos that he is a threat from anywhere on the park, especially on kick returns. So far in 2014 Inglis has crossed the stripe five times, but it's his tackle-breaking ability which seems him on top of the NRL pile, with 46 tackle breaks at an average of just under six per game.

Where It Will Be Won: The battle of the forwards holds the key to victory for both sides. Forget about witnessing another 90-metre Greg Inglis solo try because the metre-men in the middle need to be the ones who carve out the hard yards. Both forward packs are brimming with Origin and international experience and as is the case with Sutton and Mead, a handful of big-boppers are auditioning for Origin I as well.

Souths forwards Ben Te'o and Chris McQueen need to perform or their Queensland hopes may perish. These two haven't displayed Origin-like form this season and are producing fewer metres and making less tackles compared to last season. Te'o has only averaged 68 run metres this so far in 2014, compared to last season when he was averaging 81m. For McQueen, while he has improved his running metres (from 65m in 2013 to 83m this year), his defensive work has decreased by 20 per cent (20 tackles per game this season compared to 25 last year).

The History: Played 10; Titans 4, Rabbitohs 6. The history between these sides is rather tight since the Titans entered the competition in 2007. However, since accounting for the Rabbitohs in their inaugural clash in Round 11, 2007, Gold Coast have only won three out of the past nine clashes. Souths are currently on a four-match winning streak over the Titans who haven't beaten the Bunnies since Round 2, 2010. The last time the Titans tasted victory over Souths at Robina was in Round 8, 2009.

Match Officials: Referees - Ben Cummins & Dave Munro; Touch Judges - Paul Holland & Clayton Sharpe; Video Referees - Chris Ward & Luke Phillips.

Televised: Fox Sports – Live 5.30pm.

The Way We See It: The Titans have been bubbling along nicely so far this season but it's fair to say their sternest test will be against the Bunnies. This game will be decided on which forward pack can assert their dominance. Speedsters such as Albert Kelly and David Mead need the Titans pack to bash and bruise the Burgess brothers and company, and likewise the Rabbitohs' pack, who need to create room for Adam Reynolds and John Sutton to weave their magic. This game could be decided by a moment of individual brilliance or a crucial mistake by the opposition so with that in mind, it's the Rabbitohs by four points courtesy of some 'GI' magic.

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