Dragons v Titans Preview

Dragons v Titans
WIN Stadium
Saturday, 5.30pm

SOME NRL teams have their dreaded bogy opponents – and that’s definitely the case with the Titans, with the home side this week coming up against a Dragons unit they haven’t defeated in all four clashes to date.

The red-and-whites head to Wollongong HQ buoyed by a spirited effort against the Storm in Melbourne, falling 17-16 in sudden death. New coach Wayne Bennett would be pleased with the new steel his side displayed. They led the much-vaunted Storm 8-4 at the break before some lapses saw them concede two second-half tries to trail with minutes remaining. Wendell Sailor’s 60-metre solo run set up the golden-point thriller and from there, like all games that go beyond 80 minutes, it really was a flip of the coin.

Disappointingly the Dragons weren’t able to capitalise on an abundance of possession which yielded them a heap more territory than the Storm. Normally any side that carves out a 1509 metres to 1223 metres advantage would be expected to get the cash but not the Dragons last week.

They field a few changes, with Chase Stanley dropped after a few crucial misreads in defence – with one glaring missed tackle resulting in a try to Billy Slater. His spot in the centres partnering Matt Cooper has gone to utility/back-rower Beau Scott.

Jarrod Saffy has been promoted to the starting line-up to replace injured prop Justin Poore (hand fracture, four weeks), with Matt Prior, who did some nice things against the Storm (99 metres from 12 hit-ups in just 42 minutes) elevated from the bench to slot into Scott’s second row spot. Former Bronco and Raider Neville Costigan joins the 17, as does Brett Morris.

Meanwhile coach John Cartwright will be looking for a better start from the Titans this week. They trailed the Knights 14-0 after 29 minutes and looked gone for all money on their home strip in Round 1 before they splashed cold water on their faces and punched out 14 points in just nine minutes for a two-point lead.

Their side remains unchanged.

Watch out Dragons: Much has been made in the press during the week about five-eighth Jamie Soward and the liability he represents to the Dragons’ defensive line. He missed five tackles, one of which occurred when Greg Inglis ran at him straight and hard as he stood flat-footed on his line. The truth is, most small men get spotted and are targets in the defensive line – even the likes of Darren Lockyer. The solution is to get someone to be their “minder” – like Tonie Carroll was to Lockyer during his time at the Broncos. The selection of Beau Scott at centre is telling – it signals coach Bennett’s intent for Scott to go into battle for Soward defensively. Scott made an NRL-high six one-on-one tackles last week – he needs to be just as effective this week or Scott Prince will have a field day directing traffic at the Dragons’ five-eighth.

Watch out Titans: New buy Darius Boyd showed some flair at fullback for the Dragons, who have lacked serious penetration at the back for several years now. Bennett-favourite Boyd made 114 metres from 13 searching runs including a round-high seven tackle breaks. The Titans’ kick-chase will need to be super diligent or else he’ll give the Dragons a great attacking platform throughout the game. Also, with Poore sidelined expect Michael Weyman to really ramp up his input. In just 51 minutes against the Storm he ran for 171 metres.

Where it will be won: Discipline. It’s likely the Dragons will be one of the teams that do it tough adapting to the new two-referees system. In past years they have been among the worst offenders in the NRL, giving away silly penalties all over the field. Last year they pegged that back to finish middle of the pack but already after Round 1 they lead the way for the most penalties conceded with 11 (equal with the Broncos). In this game former Super League ref Ashley Klein takes the whistle (with Alan Shortall assisting). Klein blew the second most penalties (17) last round against the Eels so the Dragons won’t find it any easier here – even at home. In particular they need to be careful around the marker, where the mobile Titans forwards like Nathan Friend (107 touches, 70 metres last week) and Mark Minichiello (103 metres) can catch them out – the Dragons conceded three penalties for marker infringements last week.

The History: Played 4; Dragons 4, Titans 0. The Dragons are unbeaten in four starts against the Gold Coast. They have won both their encounters at WIN Stadium, including a 30-12 thrashing last year.

Conclusion: While the Dragons hold a perfect record over the Titans this isn’t a clear-cut call. Much depends on the start of the Titans. If they can put on early points they have the attacking arsenal in Prince, Preston Campbell, Mat Rogers and new buy William Zillman to rack up a big score.

The Dragons appear functional but they also look in need of a few more attacking options rather than just whatever transpires off the boot of Soward. It’s a tough one to pick but the safest bet is to stick with the home side.

Match officials: Referees – Ashley Klein & Alan Shortall; Sideline Officials – Luke Potter & Steve Carrall; Video Ref – Sean Hampstead.

Televised: Fox Sports – Live 5.30pm.

* Statistics: NRL Stats.