Matt Harris, Queensland Correspondent, NRL.com
Titans v Warriors
Cbus Super Stadium
These two sides have had vastly contrasting starts to the 2014 season but now find themselves slowly heading in the opposite direction to where they were a month ago. The Warriors lost their first two games of the season and then pulled off a massive upset by defeating the Cowboys in Townsville in Round 3. After smashing the Tigers in Round 4, they then went on a three-game losing run before snapping their streak in another unlikely place against the Storm in Melbourne.
So while the 12th-placed Warriors seem to be on the up after two wins from their past three starts, the Titans are now quickly dropping down the NRL ladder and are currently in seventh spot, when only five weeks ago they were competition leaders after six rounds.
Injury and suspension to key names haven't helped the Titans' cause, with big names such as Greg Bird, William Zillman, Aidan Sezer, Albert Kelly and Ashley Harrison all missing games over the last five rounds. In that time the Titans have only won two of those games, contributing to their steady slide down the ladder.
One thing saving the Titans from slipping outside the top eight is their defence because they dead-set struggle to score points. They are the second worst side in the NRL for tries scored with only 27 four-pointers so far this season, which is equal with the last-placed Sharks and only one try behind the Knights who are 15th on the ladder.
If you overlook the two heavy losses against the Tigers (42-12) in Round 2 and Souths (40-18) in Round 9, the Titans have only conceded an average of 14 points per game. This is the sole reason that they are still remain two competition points shy of the top four, although their points difference is slowly taking a hit, now down to -27.
In team changes, Albert Kelly (leg) is a late omission for the Titans, while Aidan Sezer has torn his pectoral and faces a minimum of 12 weeks on the sideline. Co-captain Nate Myles is on Origin duty, with veteran Luke Bailey shifting to the starting side and Mark Ioane coming onto the bench. Ben Ridge replaces Cody Nelson on the bench with Nelson dropping back to 18th man.
Ashley Harrison (neck) and Kevin Gordon (knee) have failed to recover from injuries sustained prior to last Friday's clash against the Broncos, while Zillman has been named captain and will return to the centres.
For the Warriors, Kevin Locke (ankle) is a late omission, replaced on the wing by David Fusitua. Ngani Laumape shifts from the wing to the centres with Ben Henry moving to the second row. Ben Matulino returns to his more regular position of prop from the back row while Siliva Havili comes onto the bench for Sione Lousi. Rookie prop Nathaniel Peteru has been named as 18th man for the trip to the glitter strip.
In milestones, David Mead makes his 100th NRL appearance having debuted in Round 13, 2009. For the Warriors, skipper Simon Mannering plays his 199th match and Shaun Johnson is five goals short of 100 in the NRL.
Watch Out Titans: There wasn't much more that Warriors warhorse Jacob Lillyman could have done to earn an Origin recall after a stellar beginning to the 2014 season. With the Maroons staying loyal to back-rowers Ben Te'o and Chris McQueen, Lillyman could be forgiven for feeling slightly aggravated that he didn't receive a phone call from Mal Meninga, or even made the squad as 18th or 19th man. The 30-year-old will now be itching to prove to the Queensland selectors that they made a mistake by not picking him and it all starts with Saturday's clash against the Titans. Having played six games for the Maroons after debuting way back in 2006, the Warriors forward has produced some impressive numbers so far this season, averaging 23 tackles and 140 metres per game. Not noted for doing the flashy things, Lillyman is ever reliable and rarely makes a mistake; this can be attributed to not making a single offload this season, therefore cutting down on his errors, which number just two this season.
Watch Out Warriors: Another victim of Queensland's 'pick and stick' policy is Dave Taylor. The 'Coal Train' looks to be finally fulfilling the potential that was recognised during his fledging days at the Broncos with a series of eye-catching performances for the Titans this year. His numbers this season have been hard to ignore; he has notched up an average of 15 runs per game for 135 metres. He also averages 14 tackles per game and has made 10 offloads and 17 tackle breaks over 10 matches. The one area that lets the 25-year-old down is his handling errors, with a total of 12 so far this season. The Warriors will need to be wary of Taylor, with Titans coach John Cartwright sure to have his leading charger raring to go in the absence of Greg Bird and Ashley Harrison.
Plays To Watch: The Titans' right-edge combination of Brad Takairangi and Anthony Don is still in its infancy and was only conceived out of necessity due to the injury suffered by Will Zillman in Round 3 against the Raiders. Now that Zillman is back from injury, the Takairangi-Don partnership continues into its eighth game this weekend against the Warriors. Given that the left-edge partnership of Zillman and Kalifa Faifai Loa only lasted 19 minutes against the Broncos last Friday, the Titans' right-side pair will most likely see more of the ball due to the continuity they've been building over the last seven matches. Stats wise, these two haven't been setting the world on fire, with only four tries between them – all of them going to winger Don. Takairangi has only made one try assist this season which came last week against Brisbane and the only line breaks from this pair have come from Don, with two so far this season. The match-up of Don and Manu Vatuvei will be a fascinating one as 'The Beast' looks to overpower the inexperienced Titans winger.
Where It Will Be Won: Discipline and completion rates. The Titans will be looking for an improvement in their completion rate and the amount of penalties they concede. Currently the Gold Coast are ranked second in the NRL for penalties conceded (85), only one behind the Wests Tigers. Surprisingly they are also ranked second for penalties awarded, but their most unwanted statistic is the amount of errors they concede per game. They are ranked first for errors in this season with an average of 13 per game, at a completion rate of only 69.5 per cent. This is a long way short of the competition best of 79 per cent, currently held by the Storm. The Warriors are also guilty of a poor completion rate, averaging 71.5 per cent. Their nine second half errors against the Dogs last weekend came at crucial times and was the main instigator for the 16-12 loss at Waikato Stadium according to coach Andrew McFadden.
The History: Played 14; Titans 6, Warriors 8. Don't let the head-to-head statistics fool you because the Warriors have won the past six clashes between these sides dating back to 2011. Prior to that the Titans had won six straight games over the Kiwis, although that was between 2008 and 2010 and a lot has changed since then. The Titans have hosted the Warriors eight times at Robina and won on four occasions with their last win coming in Week 1 of the 2010 Finals Series. These sides clashed twice last year with the Warriors prevailing by one point in Round 8 and two points in Round 24.
What Are The Odds: Are the Titans a value bet? Punters certainly think so, jumping all over their odds of $3.25 with Sportsbet.com.au. In fact, there has been slightly more money for them to beat the Warriors.
Referee – Gavin Morris; Assistant Referee – Henry Perenara; Touch Judges – Paul Holland & Adam Reid; Video Referees – Bernard Sutton & Steve Folkes.
Get your ticket to NRL Round 11
Televised: Fox Sports – Live 5.30pm.
Special Offers: Kids get in free in the Eastern Grandstand. Fans can enjoy a family friendly day at the free Titans Fans Zone, featuring face-painting, a rock-climbing wall and interactive photo booth. Also, in a cross-promotion with the Blues Beach Festival, free shuttle buses will leave from the heart of the festival to ferry spectators to and from the game.
The Way We See It: The Warriors had every chance to beat the barking Bulldogs last weekend but shot themselves in the foot with a series of errors after half-time. If they can maintain their discipline and control the ball for longer periods, they should record a comfortable victory over the injury-hit Titans. Kelly's absence robs the Gold Coast of some spark, which the likes of Shaun Johnson and Sam Tomkins will provide for the Warriors. Because the Kiwis aren't troubled by Origin, injury or suspension they should have enough class on hand to defeat the Titans away from home. Warriors by 10 points.