Warriors v Titans
Mount Smart Stadium
Sunday, 4pm (NZT)
When Andrew McFadden and Neil Henry sat down to name their sides for this Sunday’s clash at Mount Smart Stadium the urge to make wholesale changes must have been hard to deny.
The two coaches were blunt in their appraisal of their side’s performances last week following embarrassing defeats, but have made only minimal changes.
The Warriors come into it off the back of copping their biggest defeat of the season at home to a rampant Roosters side who scored eight tries in a 46-12 victory.
The Titans meanwhile were completely outclassed for all but the final 10 minutes of their game against the Dragons, slumping to their 14th defeat of the year in the way of a 34-6 loss.
The New Zealanders have only one unforced change for Round 25 with Feleti Mateo, a player once on the cusp of State of Origin selection, dropped to NSW Cup for the second time in 2014.
After suffering a dislocated shoulder inside the opening five minutes last week winger David Fusitu’a is out. That sees Ngani Laumape shift from centre to the right wing, with Dominique Peyroux named to start at centre against his former club.
The Gold Coast receive a boost with David Mead included on an extended bench, and the speedster is tipped to be a late inclusion in the centres for the trip to New Zealand.
Following back-to-back defeats the Warriors have slipped from top-four challenger to finals outsider, and must win on Sunday if they are any hope of playing past Round 26.
Prior to last weekend the Titans had impressed by pushing premiership contenders the Roosters and Sea Eagles in narrow defeats, but under new coach Neil Henry they have nothing but pride to play for over the final two weeks of the season.
Watch Out Warriors: When you miss 50 tackles in an NRL game you are never going to win. The Warriors did that last week against the Roosters and if they are to avoid a similar fate this Sunday they will probably need to halve their defensive error count.
The Titans have a backline which can do damage if you let them get on the front foot. Last week both wingers ran for well over 100 metres, and across the season every member of this week’s backline averages over 70 metres per game. If you allow the Titans space they can cause some hurt out wide, and the Warriors right-edge, which leaked three tries and a number of line breaks last week, is always a prime target.
Watch Out Titans: This year the Warriors don’t tend to back up a poor performance with another one, instead usually showing drastic improvement which results in them getting back in the winner’s circle. Only once this season have they lost by 19 points or more and followed it up with a loss in the next game, and they can expected to be fired up after last week’s embarrassment on home turf.
The away form of the Titans in 2014 has been far from reassuring, having won just twice outside of Skilled Park.
Auckland has never been a happy hunting ground for the Gold Coast either, and since their inception in 2007 they have won just two games at Mount Smart Stadium, the last of which was over four years ago.
Plays To Watch: Both Aidan Sezer and Shaun Johnson can grab a game by the scruff of the neck and take it in the direction they want. Ultra-confident players, watch for them to take the line on late in each half, and with the abysmal defence served up by both outfits last week expect these two lads to try their luck plenty with the ball in hand.
The sheer speed of the likes of James Roberts and William Zillman for the Titans, and Konrad Hurrell and Sam Tomkins for the Warriors, also means breaks early in the tackle count are never out of the question. They might not always be the high percentage options, but there are a number of players in both sides who love to take their marker on out wide with the hope of skipping through.
Where It Will Be Won: The opening 10 minutes is crucial. The Warriors have scored 80 points in the first 10 minutes of game this year, more than any other team in the NRL, while the Titans concede more than any other in that period. You can’t win a game in those opening exchanges, but you can certainly go a long way to losing one.
Both sides leaked points like they were going out of fashion last week, so the obvious focus will be on defence. We know they can score points, but the team who can limit the others’ offloads and second-phase plays will probably end up the winner.
The History: Played 15; Warriors 9, Titans 6. With seven-straight wins against this week’s opponents, the Warriors’ record against the Titans stands up as one of their best against any current NRL team. The Kiwis haven’t gone down to the Gold Coast since way back in 2010, but their meetings tend to be close encounters. The last four games have been decided by 18 points or fewer, with two of them split by two or fewer.
What Are The Odds:
As bad as the Warriors have been going over the past few weeks, Sportsbet punters see them as specials at home, and launched into their opening price of $1.22. There’s also been strong support for over 45.5 points to be scored but it seems they think the Warriors will be scoring most of them. Latest Odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match Officials: Referee – Gavin Badger; Assistant Referee – Chris James; Touch Judges; Michael Wise and Anthony Eliott; Video Referees – Alan Shortall and Ben Galea.
The Way We See It: After what they dished up last week it is hard to endorse either side ahead of Sunday’s meeting. However the Warriors will run onto Mount Smart Stadium knowing that they are playing for their season, with a loss almost certainly spelling the end of their finals hopes. The Titans on the other hand already know they can’t make the top eight or drop into the wooden spoon zone in 2014 and have little to play for. The Kiwis will have felt the full wrath of coach McFadden this week and a significant improvement can be expected. Warriors by 10.