Titans v Raiders
Cbus Super Stadium
Two teams with a solitary win apiece since the Representative Round back at the start of May but only one comes into this one with the top eight still in their sights.
The Titans produced a shock almost as big as the Sharks' win over the Roosters when they ground out a 14-10 win against the Rabbitohs on Monday night while the Raiders come out of a bye on the back of four straight defeats and with devoted 'Green Machine' mathematicians reaching for the abacus to see whether a finals berth remains a possibility.
Only the Sharks have scored fewer points than the Titans thus far in 2014 but the Raiders have just 23 more and have leaked 84 more points in defence compared to a Titans side that has given up 20 points only seven times this year, and only one of which they have come out on top.
With Origin stars Greg Bird, Nate Myles and Dave Taylor taking part in Origin III on Wednesday night, Gold Coast coach John Cartwright has named a 21-man squad, with David Mead unlikely to play and Albert Kelly also under an injury cloud.
Daniel Mortimer and Maurice Blair have been named in the halves for the home side while for the Raiders, Brenko Lee moves into the centres for the injured Jack Wighton. Jeremy Hawkins, originally named to make his debut on the wing, has been denied the opportunity by the NRL as the Raiders have hit their second-tier salary cap limit. His replacement is yet to be confirmed.
The Raiders don't have a great record at Cbus Super Stadium but that may count for little on Sunday; the Titans themselves are 2-6 at home in 2014.
A win on Sunday is no guarantee that the Titans will work their way back into the top eight but if they drop this one their September schedule may start to free up.
It's a game they need to control from the outset but it also shapes as exactly the type of game the Raiders will be planning an interstate ambush.
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Watch Out Titans: Despite his side going through a horror run with just one victory since the Origin Series started back in May, David Shillington's performances up front for the Raiders have been getting better the longer the season has gone. Contracted to Canberra until the end of the 2015 season, Shillington has thrown everything into his past two games against the Bulldogs and Wests Tigers and produced some wonderful numbers. The past two games have seen his two highest number of hit-ups for the season to date and ran for 180 metres against the 'Dogs and 139m against the Tigers. He has played 14 Tests for Australia and seven Origins for Queensland and over the past month in particular he's been playing like it.
Watch Out Raiders: In his brief NRL career to date, electrifying centre James Roberts has never gone three games without scoring a try, and he's failed to cross the stripe for the Titans in his past two appearances. Having scored on debut for his new club against the Storm in Round 14 following a mid-season shift from the Panthers, Roberts has failed to find the space he needs to create havoc for the defence, and he doesn't need a whole lot. He had six tackle breaks against the Storm and four against the Dragons but in a stop-start fixture against the Rabbitohs he was well contained. Coach John Cartwright will do a double-take when he sees Roberts touched the ball just six times against Souths so expect to see the Titans shift the ball to his edge more on Sunday.
Plays To Watch: The direct nature of Daniel Mortimer's play at halfback is giving the Titans a much stronger shape in attack and allowing the likes of William Zillman and Brad Takairangi to ask questions of the defence. If Mortimer can hold the Raiders defence up long enough, it will create space on the edges for Kelly and Roberts and give them one-on-one opportunities in which they are so dangerous. Anthony Milford's 40 touches against the Tigers in Round 16 were his most since Rounds 2 and 3; the Raiders need to go to him as often as they can if they can establish a period of pressure in good-ball areas.
Where It Will Be Won: These two teams both rank in the bottom four in the competition for tries scored and the bottom three for line break assists so the ability to take advantage of any opportunities will be crucial. The Raiders have a more settled halves combination in Campese and McCrone, with Titans coach John Cartwright still tinkering with his preferred combination following the mid-season acquisition of Daniel Mortimer. The respective finishing abilities of Jarrod Croker and James Roberts have the potential to turn a half chance into two competition points.
History: Played 14; Titans 9; Raiders 5. The past two years may have been lean ones for the Titans in terms of finals footy but they have had the wood over the Raiders, going into this one seeking a fourth straight victory. The hot weather on the Gold Coast for Round 2 last year enabled the Titans to dish out a 36-0 hiding and then backed that up with a 24-12 Round 3 win this year in Canberra. The Raiders' only victory on the Gold Coast since 2007 was in Round 2, 2012 when Jarrod Croker scored 16 of Canberra's 24 points in their 24-12 win (two tries and four goals).
What Are The Odds:
Gold Coast’s upset victory over the Rabbitohs in Monday night footy has triggered a wave of support at Sportsbet.com.au for the Titans ($1.60) to beat Canberra ($2.25). There is five times the money placed on the Titans. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match Officials: Referee – Jared Maxwell; Assistant Referee – Dave Munro; Touch Judges –Adam Reid & Rickey MacFarlane; Video Referees – Bernard Sutton & Steve Folkes.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live 2pm.
How We See It: A fast track on a sunny Sunday afternoon on the Gold Coast should promote a free-flowing game of footy but it is unlikely we will see expansive movement of the Steeden until the battle in the middle is won. The Titans make more errors than the Raiders but also have a greater ability to absorb pressure so if they can get somewhere near an equal share of possession, they should give their home fans something to cheer about for the first time since Round 6. Titans by 10.