Titans v Bulldogs
Friday 7.35pm (Qld Time)
THE Gold Coast Titans are the latest Jekyll-and-Hyde team in the NRL. They are one team at home and quite another when away. Already this season their win-loss record is directly related to where they are playing. So it is lucky the Titans are playing the Bulldogs at home this weekend.
Technically undefeated after two rounds, the Bulldogs are hurting after having their points stripped from their win over the Panthers because of an extra man on the field when Ben Roberts scored the match-winner.
The Bulldogs are appealing the decision but the chance to win a game this week legitimately will be a huge motivation.
Unlike the Titans, the Bulldogs are a new team this year. With a new coach and most of the Broncos’ 2008 pack, this team has turned a corner.
Watch out Titans: The Broncos connection within this team is already proving to be their X-factor, and now with Greg Eastwood on board they have gained another tough element.
Eastwood turned his back on the NRL last season and signed with the UK Super League, but a whole bunch of speeding fines prevented him from getting a visa.
The Bulldogs benefited from his unfortunate situation and after spending all off-season waiting around for his future to be sorted, Eastwood is clearly just happy to be back on the field. Against the Panthers he was given just 39 minutes but managed a try, three offloads, 77 running metres and 18 tackles.
Coach Kevin Moore will be confident to use Eastwood even more effectively this week. It is not just his work rate the Bulldogs will benefit from, but also his ability to offload and break through tackles at the most crucial point in games.
Watch out Bulldogs: The Titans love playing at home. That new, state-of-the-art stadium seems to be their 18th player. Being in that comfort zone really gives some players a leg-up.
Five-eighth Mat Rogers, who was largely ineffective last week, revels in that home-ground atmosphere. Down in Wollongong against the Dragons he was barely sighted. He missed six tackles and had no impact on the play in setting up tries. He ran the ball just four times.
That’s in stark contrast to Round 1 when the Titans overcame the Knights at home. Rogers was very involved in that match, running the ball 12 times and making over 100 metres. He scored a try and set up another.
The Titans’ main playmaker Scott Prince is in doubt for this game after going down at training early in the week. For the month leading up to the NRL season talk floated around about the Titans’ inability to win without their halfback. If Prince does not make it onto the field, much of the side’s direction will need to come from Rogers. Luckily they will be at home, and Rogers loves showing his skills around Skilled Park.
Where it will be won: Like so many games, this one will really come down to who dominates in the forwards.
Last week the Gold Coast were totally dominated by the size of the Dragons’ pack. Luke Bailey and co. tried hard but were underdone in the size stakes.
The Bulldogs, on the other hand, have strength and skill jammed into their stacked pack. Ben Hannant is a powerhouse, and with Eastwood coming off the bench, they lose nothing when their best players are off the field.
The Titans are going to rely on the heavy work rate of their second-rowers Anthony Laffranchi and Mark Minichiello. What these two lack in size they more than make up for in heart and effort. If the Titans’ back-rowers can dominate, it is likely most of their points will come through their forwards.
Laffranchi and Minichiello both have the ability to punch through the line from a well-timed pass close to the in-goal, while the Bulldogs’ second row is more about no-frills hard work.
The Bulldogs will be desperate to get the ball wide to their new superstar, schoolboy Jamal Idris.
The History: Played 3; Bulldogs 2, Titans 1. The Titans won the only game at Skilled Park, a 24-20 nail-biter last season.
Conclusion: The Bulldogs’ pack has the firepower to dominate the Titans and if they continually get over the advantage line, Idris and Josh Morris need just a small amount of space to strike a blow.
Further motivation for the Bulldogs has come from the deduction of their two points and they will be doing all they can to claw their way back to the top of the table.
However, the Titans have a formidable home record and skill in the forwards to counter the brute force of the Bulldogs. Whether they can hold out the momentum of a fired-up ’Dogs is the query.
Match Officials: Referees – Jared Maxwell and Alan Shortall. Sideline Officials – Adam Devcich & Steve Carrall. Video Ref – Paul Simpkins.
Televised: Channel 9 – Live 7.30pm (Qld), delayed 9.30pm (NSW); Fox Sports – Delayed 1pm.
* Statistics: NRL Stats.