Titans v Wests Tigers
Cbus Super Stadium
Sunday 2pm (AEST)
Given, we have only seen them play once, but how do you draw a line between these two teams after their respective performances from Round 1?
The Tigers’ defence in the second half of their 44-24 loss to the Dragons suggests they spent too much time on ball-work during the pre-season, while on Monday night the Titans’ attack coughed and spluttered more often than a two-stroke scooter.
Due largely to the spark from fullback James Tedesco, the Tigers' attack looked positively breathtaking in the opening 20 minutes, yet the Titans were able to stand toe-to-toe with an injury-ravaged Sharks outfit and limp out of Remondis Stadium with the two competition points heading into Members' Round.
Every team will tell you that if you can get your defensive house in order for the opening month of the premiership the attack will soon follow, so Wests Tigers coach Mick Potter faces a far-too-early patch-up job on his side's work in defence.
Despite scoring three tries inside the opening 18 minutes of the game, the Tigers proceeded to concede five tries between the 23rd and 64th minute marks, making the second-worst attack in the competition in 2013 look like the Harlem Globetrotters.
John Cartwright's Titans face an easier task in rectifying a disjointed attack that admittedly performed in much the same way as many of the other teams in Round 1. If not for some individual brilliance from Albert Kelly they may have struggled to post many points at all but at least they line up for Round 2 knowing the defensive structures are holding firm.
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Watch Out Titans: James Tedesco had played in the grand total of four NRL games when he was selected to represent City Origin in 2013 and in the first of those games he had lasted just 30 minutes.
The rugby league world empathised with a 19-year-old who had his NRL dream temporarily snatched away by an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury but two years on and 'Teddy' looks set to fulfil all that promise and more.
He wowed the massive crowds at Eden Park with his blistering speed in the Auckland Nines and when he laid on the opening Tigers try for Pat Richards and then punished Brett Morris for a dropped ball with a 60-metre scything run through the middle of the field to score one of his own all inside the first 10 minutes, City selectors started pencilling his name down again at the top of their team sheet.
He scored eight tries in 19 appearances in 2013 but it appears that two years on from his crushing knee injury and with an unforgettable experience playing for Italy in the World Cup, confidence has been fully restored, which should send alarm bells to any NRL team struggling to keep pace with the new rule interpretations.
Watch Out Wests Tigers: He may have had a misbehaving vein in his foot during the pre-season but the fast feet and even sharper football brain of Albert Kelly proved all the difference in the Titans' Round 1 win.
Although there were a couple of air-swings on other attempted intercepts – including a gaping hole he left for Tinirau Arona to score the opening try of the game – Kelly's snaffling of an Isaac De Gois pass from dummy-half close to the Titans' line that led to a 95m runaway try gave his side a 10-6 advantage at the break.
Less than two minutes into the second half he was denied a try by the video referee, who overturned the decision of the on-field officials, and when the game was there to be won with the scores locked together at 12-all with 10 minutes remaining, he threaded a grubber kick through the Sharks defence for William Zillman to pounce on and score.
With a tough, uncompromising pack of forwards and a five-eighth in Aidan Sezer who is the epitome of cool under pressure, Kelly provides the x-factor that can turn a game on its head in the blink of an eye.
Plays To Watch: Both teams used the sweeping play out the back on numerous occasions in their respective games but the speed of Tedesco made the Tigers look more dangerous; the Titans will need to communicate clearly in defence to ensure they aren't cut short.
Robbie Farah's pet play – the burrow from close to the line – delivered four points for the Wests Tigers yet again, while Beau Falloon's attempt to emulate the feat for the Titans was brought undone by a slight bobble as he tried to plant the ball under the posts.
Dave Taylor showed remarkable restraint with his offloads but if the Tigers start to look shabby on the edges you can expect the big bloke will be asking plenty of difficult questions.
Where It Will Be Won: With a rookie halfback in Luke Brooks much of the Tigers attack will come of the back of Robbie Farah's work at dummy-half. If his forwards can roll through the middle and give him time and space to play with, the Tigers dangerous outside backs will soon come into their own and Brooks will have the opportunity to showcase his full array of skills.
The Titans showed on Monday night that despite being domiciled on the glitter strip they have no fear of winning ugly, so if they can win that battle in the middle of the ruck they should have the patience and experience to finish over the top of the Tigers.
The History: Played 11; Titans 6, Tigers 5. Since the Titans' introduction in 2007 the clashes between these two sides have been fairly evenly split, with no side winning more than two games in succession. The Titans were convincing 36-6 winners when they last met the Tigers on the Gold Coast in Round 21 last year but in 2012 it was a Robbie Farah field goal that gave the Tigers a 15-14 win away from home. It was their second success on the Gold Coast in seven attempts.
What Are The Odds: Punters aren’t sure what to do here, with nibbles coming for a swag of markets on the match at Sportsbet.com.au. The Titans are firm favourites in head to head betting at $1.30 but the Tigers, $3.50 outsiders, have attracted the same level of support in head to head to betting. Money is identical for both sides in line and margin betting. The tip is late money will come for the home team.
Match Officials: Referees - Gerard Sutton & Dave Munro; Sideline Officials - Steve Carrall & Peter Gough; Video Referees - Bernard Sutton & Andrew Dunemann.
Televised: Channel Nine – Delayed 4pm.
The Way We See It: Although they both have plenty to work on, there's something appealing about a side that shows grit in defence and can grind out a win.
Expect the Tigers to throw plenty at the Titans early – and perhaps even score the first try of the game – but cool heads should prevail. An expected top of 31 degrees on Sunday and 2pm kick-off will also ensure there's plenty of heat on the Tigers’ defence. Titans by 10 points.
*Statistics: Champion Data.
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