Dairy Farmers Stadium
ON the surface this might appear a match geared towards a Gold Coast victory – but it’s far from that.
Sure, the Titans are in second spot on the ladder and the Cowboys are down in 13th. Sure, the Cowboys have lost two straight, including last Monday against the previously winless Raiders, while the Titans have won two in a row, without Scott Prince, including a last-start victory over Melbourne in Melbourne.
But you can never discount the Cowboys at home as long as Johnathan Thurston and Matt Bowen are in their side.
The North Queensland outfit is having some teething problems adjusting to new coach Neil Henry and his structures but once they do they could explode into a top-four side.
The question remains just how long before they click as time will eventually run out.
Henry has named the same side as the one that fell to Canberra although Steve Rapira, Shannon Hegarty and Grant Rovelli have been added to a seven-man bench.
The Titans look to have lost Preston Campbell to a calf injury; however Prince is back to slot into his no.7 jersey.
The only other tweak to the side is Josh Graham added as an 18th man.
The Titans were awesome in accounting for the Storm, stamping themselves as the real deal in 2009.
They have had trouble travelling in the past but the win against Melbourne and the fact they won the last time they traveled to Townsville should give them great confidence.
Watch out Cowboys: Scott Prince returns obviously happy his team has won without him, but determined to prove they are still a much tougher prospect with him in the side.
Prince’s battle with Thurston will be a major contributing factor to the result, with both men having a very healthy rivalry having gone head-to-head for Origin jerseys in recent years. With Prince having fallen short of Thurston on the rep stage on the majority of occasions, he’ll relish the chance to prove himself against his mate.
He is averaging a line break a match and a try a match so far this year but amazingly he has yet to provide a try assist. Considering he has been one of the NRL’s most prolific in the stat during the past few years, chances are he’ll kick-start his tally against the Cowboys.
Watch out Titans: The Cowboys are currently the most deadly team from within 10 metres of the try line, having scored 10 tries from 0-10 metres. With four deadly playmakers in Thurston, Bowen, Aaron Payne and Travis Burns in the mix, the side has several options to go to from close range.
The likes of Carl Webb and Luke O’Donnell are also potential attacking options from close; they have size and a little bit of skill to upset the Gold Coast goal-line defence.
But the Titans have reason to be confident as they have only conceded three tries from this close range, ranking them number one in the NRL.
Where it will be won: Discipline. These two sides are two of the most heavily penalised over the first month of season 2009 – and it is really hurting the Cowboys in particular.
North Queensland have conceded 35 penalties in the opening four games, the most of any side, while the Titans have heard the shrill sound of the whistle go against them 33 times. That’s more than eight penalties a match for both sides, and with the pace of play much quicker than recent years the resulting field position puts pressure on the defences.
The Cowboys have conceded 15 tries this season, the Titans nine. Inviting teams into your red zone through ill-discipline is almost unforgivable. Just how much influence Jared Maxwell and Phil Haines have on this game remains to be seen but both coaches have surely drummed home the need to be cleaner.
The History: Played 3; Cowboys 1, Titans 2. The Cowboys won the inaugural clash between the two clubs but the Titans have won the past two, including the only clash at Dairy Farmers Stadium. The Gold Coast boys prevailed 26-20 up north last season.
Conclusion: Form says tip the Titans – but this could easily turn into a Cowboys romp should they finally put it all together.
Finding that confidence in the home side might be a little harder, considering they are backing up from Monday night, as only one in five teams so far this season have come from Monday night football to win the following week.
The Gold Coast have once again started a year in hot form and might just be not only finals material but premiership material. Feel free to tip either way here, you have reasons for both sides.
Match officials: Referees – Jared Maxwell & Phil Haines; Sideline Officials – Luke Potter & Paul Holland; Video Ref – Tim Mander.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live 7.30pm.
* Statistics: NRL Stats.