Nicholas Janzen, NRL.com
Titans v Wests Tigers
They’re not exactly in form, but there’s plenty for the Titans and the Wests Tigers to play for in their clash at the Gold Coast on Sunday.
The 11th-placed Titans haven’t won in their past four matches, and they’re desperate to return to the winners’ circle and reignite their finals campaign. In the past handful of games they’ve lost to the Rabbitohs (32-4), Sea Eagles (38-20), Panthers (40-18) and Knights (46-16), with their most-recent victory coming against the Origin-depleted Storm (18-12) in Round 15. It’s been a long back half of the season for the Titans, who’ve fallen away badly with just four wins since Round 7 after starting the season with three victories from their opening four matches.
The Tigers, meanwhile, are experiencing that losing feeling too – and on a much bigger scale. They’re currently in 15th position on the ladder and on a three-game losing streak, with defeats to the Sea Eagles (36-18), Warriors (24-14) and Sharks (36-22). Just like the Gold Coast, the Tigers’ last victory came against Melbourne… back in Round 16 when they beat the reigning premiers 22-4.
So, where has it all unravelled for these two teams who were expected to be challenging for top honours in 2013?
For the Titans, their defence continues to prove their Achilles heel – for a side still a hope of qualifying for the top eight, they concede an average of 22.5 points per match (13th in the competition), a record that is simply unacceptable. In the past four weeks, they’ve conceded an average of 39 points per game, too. The Tigers’ defensive record is also poor – they concede 26.1 points per game (15th in the competition) – but perhaps more worrying is the fact their reputation as one of the league’s best attacking sides is fast disappearing. In 2013, they average just 15 points per game – and with a squad that features some of the game’s biggest offensive threats, including Benji Marshall and Robbie Farah, that record simply isn’t good enough.
For both teams – for entirely different reasons – this is a game they simply must win. For the Titans, on 20 competition points, it’s all about staying in reach of the top eight. For the Tigers, a victory is needed to boost morale, to show their fans improvements are being made and, most importantly, to recapture belief as individuals and as a squad heading into next season.
The Titans have made a raft of forced and unforced changes to the team that was demolished against the Rabbitohs last weekend. In a reshuffled line-up, David Mead replaces Jordan Rankin at fullback, with four-try Burleigh Bear Anthony Don coming back into the NRL team on the wing. Ashley Harrison has been named at five-eighth to replace the injured Albert Kelly (sternum) with Aidan Sezer shifting to halfback. Luke Bailey, suffering an ankle injury, has been replaced in the starting front row by Luke Douglas. Matt Srama, also sidelined with an ankle complaint, has been replaced by Beau Falloon. Ben Ridge comes into the starting side, with Ryan James, Luke O’Dwyer and Sam Irwin named alongside David Taylor on the bench.
For the Tigers, their squad hasn’t changed from the team that lost to the Sea Eagles, with Curtis Sironen again named in the run-on team. Shaun Spence has been named in jersey No.19.
Watch Out Titans: There were positive signs for the Tigers in their clash against the Sea Eagles last Monday night – perhaps they’re ever so slowly warming to the task? Their outside backs, in particular, looked particularly threatening, making a combined total of 18 tackle-breaks and three line-breaks. That could spell trouble for a Gold Coast side missing first-choice backline stars William Zillman and Jamal Idris.
Watch Out Wests Tigers: The Titans are ranked fourth in the competition for line-breaks – and the Tigers have struggled containing teams with such attacking potency. Gold Coast average 4.3 line-breaks per game, behind just the Rabbitohs, Sea Eagles and Roosters… and the Tigers haven’t got within cooee of beating either the Rabbitohs (54-10) or the Sea Eagles (26-0 and 36-18) this season. (They haven’t yet played the Roosters.) If the Titans split their defensive line, history says the Tigers should just roll over and concede. The Tigers are yet to win a match in 2013 where they’ve conceded more line-breaks than they’ve made, either.
Plays To Watch: The Titans will be desperate to turn back the clock and rekindle the form they showed against the Storm in June. Their gritty win was built on a smart kicking game and interested and energetic support play – something they’ve been desperately lacking in recent weeks. Look for the likes of Greg Bird, Nate Myles and David Taylor to inspire their troops and get heavily involved.
The under-siege Tigers, meanwhile, with Benji Marshall off to rugby at the end of the season, could look to throw the ball around here. Keep an eye on his running men – option ball runners like Tim Simona, Blake Ayshford and Liam Fulton will be targets in attack. There’s no doubt about the fact, though, the Tigers will kick high to David Nofoaluma’s wing – the rookie flankman, named in the Holden Cup squad at the start of the season, scored one of the most athletic tries of the century from a Benji bomb against Manly last week.
Key Match-Up: Ashley Harrison up against Benji Marshall. Yes, you read that correctly! Harrison has been shifted into the halves to accommodate the loss of Albert Kelly… but one would imagine Greg Bird could slot into the pivot position come kick-off. Still, whoever lines up against Benji has a big job to do. Whichever five-eighth gives his team more spark, direction and higher-quality ball will help their team secure two much-needed competition points.
Where It Will Be Won: Errors. There’s no surprise the Tigers are down at the foot of the table – they commit 11.5 per game, the worst record in the league! The Titans, meanwhile, are only just a little better with 10.3 per match. If Mick Potter’s men are to challenge here, that’s step one. And a big one, too.
The History: Played 10; Titans 5, Tigers 5. From the five games at Skilled Park, the Gold Coast hold a 3-2 advantage.
Match Officials: Referees – Gavin Badger & Alan Shortall; Sideline Officials – Chris Butler & Brenden Wood; Video Referees – Shayne Hayne & Matt Rodwell.
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. Plus latest live scores, breaking news, comprehensive match highlights and full match replays.
Televised: Channel 9 – Delayed 4pm.
The Way We See It: With the Tigers averaging their fewest number of points away from home in their history (just 11.3 per game), we can’t go past the home side here. The Titans have more to play for – and a win here keeps their finals flame flickering. The Gold Coast by 12 points.
*Statistics: NRL Stats