Matt Harris, Queensland Correspondent, NRL.com
Titans v Sea Eagles
Cbus Super Stadium
Manly travel north of the border hoping to maintain their spot at the top of the NRL perch against what will undoubtedly be a spirited Titans side under new coach Neil Henry.
With the emotion of John Cartwright's farewell match now behind them, the Titans will now be targeting a positive end to what has been a rollercoaster season.
Top of the ladder despite a negative points differential at the conclusion of Round 6, the Titans' form since the beginning of May has been abysmal with only two wins from their past 12 matches.
Prior to that shocking run of form that ultimately signalled Cartwright's demise, the Titans had won six out of the first eight games of the season, although that now seems like a lifetime ago for long-suffering Titans fans.
Their home form has also been appalling this season with only two wins out of 10. Their last victory at Robina came back in April against the Broncos which also marked the last time they'd won consecutive matches.
Now that finals football is out of the equation for the Titans, they can still have a say in who makes the top eight with games to come against the Dragons (away), Warriors (away) and Bulldogs at home.
The Sea Eagles had a four-match winning run ended against the Bunnies last Friday and will be keen to fly back into the winner's circle as they look to cling onto top spot with games against the Eels (away), Panthers (home) and Cowboys (away) to come in the remaining three rounds.
In team news, Titans interim coach Neil Henry has named the same 17 that took on the Chooks for Sunday's match against Manly. David Taylor's neck injury will continue to be monitored and he remains a week-to-week proposition.
Aidan Sezer will play in his second match since returning from a 12-week injury lay off after coming through unscathed against the Roosters.
Sea Eagles coach Geoff Toovey has also named the same 17 that featured in their last-start loss to the Rabbitohs, although there are doubts over Steve Matai's fitness after the former Kiwi international injured his pectoral muscle seven minutes into the Rabbitohs clash as a result of an ugly chicken-wing tackle involving Issac Luke and George Burgess.
Prop Josh Starling's participation depends on whether he can escape suspension at the judiciary on Wednesday night, cited for a challenge on Luke Keary.
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Watch Out Titans: You'd be forgiven for thinking Brett 'The Snake' Stewart had lost his fangs after only producing seven tries and eight line breaks from 17 games this season.
However, Stewart has been just as lethal in 2014 even though he isn't finding the warm comfort of the try-line or the open green pastures as often as he would like. To combat this perceived lack of bite, the Manly custodian has laid on 20 try assists and 18 line-break assists for his teammates this season. He also leads the tackle breaks category for the Sea Eagles with 49 and averages a handy 91 running metres per match.
When Manly whipped the Titans 38-20 at Brookvale Oval in Round 19 last year, Stewart nabbed one try and laid on three try-assists on a sunny Sunday afternoon. With rain forecast for the Gold Coast this weekend, the Titans' chances of keeping the 'Snake' quiet are slightly improved.
Watch Out Sea Eagles: Now that coach John Cartwright has stepped aside, Luke Bailey and Mark Minichiello remain the last foundation stones still involved with the Titans. These two loyal clubmen have played a combined 317 games for the Gold Coast, but given that they are both off contract at the end of the season, their time together may be coming to an end. The 'Old Bull' and 'Mini Mini' have four games left to impress interim coach Neil Henry, who many suspect will take over the Titans’ coaching role next season if offered the opportunity. Although these aging warriors haven’t produced any exceptional statistics this season, the extra responsibility of now being the last foundation players left and playing for a contract renewal should see them lift an extra 10 per cent against Manly's imposing pack of forwards.
Plays To Watch: Aidan Sezer's return from a pectoral injury against the Roosters on Monday night finally allowed the Titans five-eighth the chance to partner with mid-season acquisition Daniel Mortimer. It also relieved Mortimer of the majority of the kicking duties with Sezer booting the Steeden twice as often as his halves partner in their first outing together.
The torrent of rain that lashed Allianz Stadium during the second half didn’t allow for the halves to weave their magic on a sodden surface, but Sezer more than made up for that with 10 kicks totalling a sizeable 341 metres. Mortimer only amassed 108 metres from six kicks so it appears the returning No.6 will take on an enhanced role when it comes to fifth-tackle options. However, the challenge the new Titans halves still face is developing an understanding and sense of cohesion between one another, which could take a further couple of weeks.
Where It Will Be Won: Heavy showers are forecast for the Gold Coast this weekend meaning the Titans can expect similar conditions to what greeted them after half-time in Monday night's loss to the Roosters at Allianz Stadium. A good lashing of rain means expansive free-flowing football will be put on hold for a more traditional slug-fest through the middle. Titans officials will hope the bad weather stays away on Sunday afternoon, although the wet conditions may just suit the home team. Gold Coast are ranked fifth in the NRL for offloads conceded (216 at almost 11 per match) and are the worst team in the league for missed tackles (728 at 36 per match). Wet conditions and a slippery Steeden are likely to limit the amount of offloads and missed tackles on Sunday as both teams adopt a more conservative approach.
The History: Played 12; Sea Eagles 7, Titans 5. Results are even between these sides in recent times with both teams winning two games each over the past three seasons. The honours are also shared in the head-to-head battle when the Sea Eagles have travelled to Robina with three wins apiece. The Titans snuck home by two points last time they hosted Manly on the Gold Coast in Round 3 last year and would happily take the same result again on Sunday afternoon.
What Are The Odds:
There’s been a lot of money on under 40.5 points being scored in this match, but when it comes to finding a winner, Sportsbet reports Manly ($1.25) as the overwhelming favourite – receiving twice the number of bets compared to the Titans ($4.00). Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match Officials: Referee – Jared Maxwell; Assistant Referee – Adam Gee; Touch Judges: Michael Wise and Jeff Younis; Video Referees – Steve Clark and Ben Galea.
Televised: Channel Nine – Delayed, 4pm.
The Way We See It: Expect another spirited performance from the Titans as they look to impress interim coach Neil Henry. However, conjuring a win out of team camaraderie alone won't be enough to get them over the line against a Sea Eagles side desperate to return to winnings ways. With wet weather expected and Steve Matai's place in the side still under some doubt, a runaway victory for the visitors is probably out of the question, but the Sea Eagles should still get the job done. Manly by 12 points.