Wests Tigers sharpshooter Pat Richards has returned to the club this season from the Super League with a mission to impress the Tigers faithful, this week's task: the Titans. Credit: Col Whelan Copyright: NRL Photos
Wests Tigers v Titans
Sunday, 3pm (AEST)
There's currently a Kiwi bloke wandering the streets of Sydney checking his phone every two minutes in the hope that his former club might forgive his early contract exit last year and even hand him back his snug-fit No. 6 jersey.
But too late; Braith Anasta has snatched it - and he isn't about to surrender it any time soon.
And why would he? This time last year the Wests Tigers were routinely being pummelled from Leichhardt to Campbelltown with names such as Benji Marshall and Robbie Farah on the field.
These days, the joint venture club are winning without them. Whether it's bursting the auspicious bubble at Parramatta, knocking the stuffing out of South Sydney, or defying the weather gods by running circles around Manly, the Wests Tigers were the most impressive winners after last weekend – and we're not going by margins.
The 21-18 victory over the Eels wasn't pretty, nor was it particularly effective. But it was gritty. And it was tough. And, in front of more than 50,000 people, it was all the things that make you successful at the right time of the year.
Mind you, this is just what we were all saying about the Titans, who were rudely knocked off their position atop the NRL ladder by mean hosts Penrith last weekend.
Winners of five from six, Gold Coast were the genuine surprise packets, a disrespected bunch who led the league not because of any brilliance – although halfback Albert Kelly isn't without it – but because they simply figured out how to stand upright in March and April when the rest couldn't.
That reputation took a hit last Monday evening, and a loss against the League's latest upstarts – and the old bloke in the No.6 – will teach them how quickly that fall from the heavens can be.
The addition of Liam Fulton for James Gavet (hamstring) means there are now nine blokes on Concord's crowded injured list, while Mark Ioane takes Matt White's (suspended) spot on Gold Coast's bench.
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Watch Out Tigers: The Titans have created their own stratosphere when it comes to second-phase footy this year, offloading at a rate of 13 a game after seven rounds.
Meanwhile the Tigers have tallied nearly 30 fewer overall. Greg Bird is the leading exponent for the visitors with 14, but they'll miss the services of the suspended White, who is responsible for 12 of them.
Watch Out Titans: Perhaps that tantalising, lofty position at the top of the tree blindsided you, because you're ranked dead last in three key statistical categories heading into the weekend. As of last Monday, you're poorest in missed tackles (233), errors (97) and penalties conceded (62). Not exactly the blueprint for success in a competition marked by tight games. Albert Kelly has committed 18 errors, while both Dave Taylor and David Mead have 10. Ashley Harrison has given away seven penalties, while Bird, Taylor and Nate Myles are responsible for six each.
Plays To Watch: Gold Coast's inability to break the line – they're a competition-worst 16 in that area – means that they resort to kicks for many of their tries. They have no problems getting into the opposition red zone, where the Tigers need to be aware that most cross-field kicks will come off the boot of Albert Kelly, not Sezer. Titans take note: the Tigers concede a league-worst 5.3 line breaks a game.
The Tigers' stirring defence has been a revelation under coach Mick Potter this season. They're the best in the competition at forcing missed tackles with their unbridled charges (33 per game), and errors (14 per game).
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Where It Will Be Won: As mentioned, the Tigers force the most errors, and the Titans commit the most. If Gold Coast don't find a way to hold onto the ball on Sunday, things can get ugly quickly because they're up against a team that, at the confidence level it is playing with, can make teams pay in an instant. If they can do that, the game will be there for the taking in the final quarter.
The History: Played 11; Wests Tigers 5, Titans 6. Sunday's meeting will be just the second time the Titans have visited Leichhardt since their inception seven years ago, and that was a two-point thriller to the home side in 2008.
In their lone clash last season, Gold Coast were comprehensive 36-6 winners on their home turf, where they have played four of their past five games between the two teams.
What Are The Odds: This one is literally a toss of the coin at $1.90 apiece, but punters are favouring the Tigers with three times the money coming for them at Sportsbet.com.au.
Match Officials: Referees – Gerard Sutton & Dave Munro; Sideline Officials – Steve Carrall & Adam Gee; Video Referees – Steve Clark & Luke Phillips.
Televised: Channel Nine – Delayed, 4pm (AEST).
The Way We See It: The way we see it, or the way the football gods decide it? Forget all the numbers we've thrown at you, you just don't mess with the spiritual forces when it comes to Sydney's inner suburb of Leichhardt. The Titans have only been there once before, and we're guessing they'll come out thinking it's haunted. Tigers by eight points.