Nicholas Janzen, NRL.com
Titans v Warriors
These teams are still in the running for a place in the finals – but, after suffering defeats last weekend and looking anything but premiership contenders, they need to rediscover their winning ways pretty darn quickly.
The Titans are, however, still in eighth position despite being roped in by the Cowboys in Townsville last Saturday night – the Raiders’ loss to the Bulldogs ensures they remain inside the finals cut-off for the time being at least. It was a poor performance by the Gold Coast team but by no means an abysmal effort – they scrapped and struggled their way through the game against North Queensland to remain in striking distance but ultimately weren’t good enough.
“We completed our sets which sort of kept them at bay… the players are of the same opinion as me that we were losing a few too many play-the-balls and simply weren’t running as hard as what we had been in previous weeks,” coach John Cartwright said of the 22-10 loss.
The Titans’ overall form in recent times has, however, been a worry – they have won just two of their past seven matches and are desperate for a victory here to consolidate their standing as a finals-worthy team.
The Warriors, meanwhile, were eventually overrun by the Panthers 28-24 in Auckland, the Kiwis’ third consecutive loss after a sensational stretch of seven wins from eight matches. Currently ranked 13th on the competition table, the New Zealand-based crew desperately need two points here if they are to keep their finals flame flickering in 2013.
The Titans received a double body blow on Friday with co-captain Greg Bird and fullback William Zillman ruled out with a back and groin complaint respectively. David Mead will wear the No.1 jersey, while Ben Ridge is the likely starter for Bird. Elsewhere, the Titans have named halfback Albert Kelly to return from injury for the club’s final home game of the regular season, with halves partner Aidan Sezer switching to five-eighth. Ashley Harrison moves back to the forward pack.
In a cruel blow for inaugural Titan Luke O’Dwyer, the 30-year-old has played his last match for the club after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee. The club will pay tribute to the utility in this match, in addition to celebrating a significant milestone by forward Mark Minichiello; the back-rower is set to become the first Titans player to reach 150 games for the club.
For the Warriors, Jerome Ropati will play his first NRL match in more than three months. Named as 18th man for the past three matches against Cronulla, Manly and Penrith, the 140-game veteran has been selected on the wing to replace Ngani Laumape. There are other positional changes, with prop Suaia Matagi named in the run-on side for his ninth outing while the back-row combination has also been altered. Elijah Taylor moves from lock to start in the second row, Todd Lowrie will wear the No.13 jersey while Feleti Mateo is on the interchange alongside Ben Matulino, Jacob Lillyman, Dominique Peyroux and Laumape.
Watch Out Titans: When the Warriors start stringing some passes together – and completing their sets of six – they’re unstoppable, statistically at least. The Kiwis have not been beaten in 2013 when they complete at a rate of 77 per cent or higher. If the passes stick and the ball control remains good, the home side will likely find themselves wounded by the Warriors.
Watch Out Warriors: The Titans were beaten 22-10 by the Cowboys last week… which is bad news if you’re a fan of the Auckland-based side! Miraculously, the Gold Coast are averaging 34.5 points the week after being held to 10 points or less. They’ve amassed big scores – 36, 28, 24, 42 and 36 – after being limited to a number of points that can be counted on two hands. Get ready for a points-scoring frenzy from the home side, we reckon!
Plays To Watch: Anything that occurs around a five- or 10-metre radius of Albert Kelly and Shaun Johnson has the potential to be incredibly damaging. At their best, ‘AK’ and Johnson are triple threats – they can run, pass and kick for try-scoring opportunities. Any time they get the ball – or link up with outside men like Mead, Gordon and Don (Kelly) and Locke, Hurrell and Vatuvei (Johnson) – their opponents will be on edge… and fans will shift to the edge of their seats, too.
Key Match-Up: The battle of the offloaders. These two sides are some of the best in-traffic passers in the competition – the Warriors average 11.6 per game (second) while the Titans are just 0.1 of a pass behind (third). But they need to be controlled and deliberate in their passing, too. Whichever team gets better service in the second phase from their ball-players – think Ashley Harrison and Dave Taylor (Titans) and Feleti Mateo, Ben Matulino and Simon Mannering (Warriors) – will hold a decisive advantage.
Where It Will Be Won: The big, runaway ‘Coal Train’ that is Dave Taylor up against the similarly rocks-or-diamonds play that Feleti Mateo can deliver. Both interchange forwards, on their day, are among the league’s most damaging players – but their day comes too infrequently. Their teams need them at their best now. Cometh the hour, cometh the man.
The History: Played 13; Warriors 7, Titans 6.
Match Officials: Referees – Gerard Sutton & Jared Maxwell; Sideline Officials – Russell Turner & Adam Reid; Video Referees – Steve Chiddy & Neil Wharton.
NRL Live 2013 App: Gives you access to every NRL game this season on your iPhone, iPad or Android smartphone as it’s being broadcast on TV, with up to six live games each week, including the Titans v Warriors clash. Plus latest live scores, breaking news, comprehensive match highlights and full match replays.
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Televised: Fox Sports 1 – Live 5.30pm.
The Way We See It: The Warriors have won just three of 10 away matches this season – and just three of their past 14 Australian-based fixtures! The Titans, meanwhile have won seven of 11 games at home. For that reason we can’t see the home side – with their finals destiny in their own hands – being beaten. Titans fans should expect a few heart flutters though – this promises to be a high-scoring thriller! Gold Coast by one point.
*Statistics: NRL Stats.