THE Gold Coast Titans may have stamped themselves as premiership threats early but if they take the foot off the pedal in this match-up they could well find themselves chasing points fast.
It’s not very often the Canberra Raiders are featured on a Friday night but after two wins on the trot they have clawed up to 11th on the NRL ladder and look ready to explode back to their usual attacking ways.
While the win against Cronulla last week had some scrappy moments, the Green Machine have the potential to punish teams in the blink of an eye, such is the form of the likes of Terry Campese and Alan Tongue.
The Titans have been very impressive, dropping just one game and seemingly overcoming their fear of playing away from home. After two crucial away wins in Melbourne and North Queensland they return to Skilled Park looking to keep the ground as their ‘fortress’.
Currently in second position behind the front-running Dragons by just four differential points, the Titans will rightly start favourites here.
Josh Graham has been named on the bench in place of Brad Meyers, the only change from the team who prevailed 14-10 in Townsville.
The Raiders have reverted to starting Stuart Flanagan at hooker and Alan Tongue at lock, which pushes Josh Miller to the bench.
Dane Tilse has also been added as an 18th man to the side that beat the Sharks 24-14 last weekend.
Milestones: Brett Delaney and Nathan Friend will become the first Titans players to reach 50 games for the club. Considering this is only the club’s 54th game, both men have plenty to be proud of.
Watch out Titans: The Raiders will be trying to bury you with constant second-phase play to pose questions to what so far has been a very solid defence.
Canberra lead the NRL with 73 offloads, or 14.6 a game, while the Titans have tucked the ball under the arm for the most part, only posting 35 offloads, or seven a game, to be ranked last in the NRL. If the Raiders can continue to squeeze the pass they could unsettle the Gold Coast’s structure and make inroads.
Bronson Harrison has been a colossus when it comes to second-phase play, pumping out 20 offloads so far this year to rank second in the competition. Tom Learoyd Lahrs is another for the Titans to watch, he has 10 offloads. David Shillington and Terry Campese are other noted offloaders of the football – and in fact almost every member of the squad has multiple offloads to their name.
Watch out Raiders: Titans prop and skipper Luke Bailey is like a fine wine, getting better with age. The man-mountain just keeps turning up, making the big runs, eating up the metres and putting his side on the front foot. He is averaging 138 metres gained a match, plus 28.6 tackles, and will steamroll the Raiders out of this contest if given half a chance.
What you don’t see in the numbers is his ability as a cover defender. This is a man of 108 kilograms who can be just about anywhere on the park when needed. Canberra needs to contain Bailey or they will be defending on the back foot – and Scott Prince loves nothing more than attacking a back-pedalling defence.
Where it will be won: Possession control. Sounds simple enough right? But the team who completes the most sets and has more possession is likely to get it done here. The Raiders will play some razzle-dazzle football but if it fails to come off, they could be facing a hiding.
The Titans won’t waste quality possession, the likes of Scott Prince and Preston Campbell will definitely orchestrate points if given the chance. So essentially the Canberra side needs to execute near faultlessly and at the same time somehow force errors out of a Gold Coast side that has been pretty disciplined in this regard.
Where the Raiders may get the edge is through the referees. The Titans have been penalised 42 times this season (8.4 a game), the second worst record in the NRL, while the Raiders are the competition’s current cleanskins having only been pinged 23 times (4.6 a game). Countless tries are scored off the back of penalties and if the Titans transgress often they could pay heavily.
The History: Played 4; Titans 2, Raiders 2. The home side has won every match between these two sides (although only one of those wins was played at Skilled Park for the Titans). The two sides are yet to play a close match, with the average winning margin being 32 points.
Conclusion: History tells us that the Titans will win at home – and win comfortably – but you wouldn’t rush out and put your hard-earned on them just yet.
The Raiders haven’t been brilliant this season by any means but they have the uncanny ability to grate at sides and score some instinctive, off-the-cuff tries. If they can get away to a good start they are more than half a chance of an upset.
In saying that, if you had to live or die by your choice, you’d want to lean to the home side. The Titans have been brutal in defence and have attacking firepower both on the field and on the bench, with the likes of William Zillman ready to come on against tiring defences.
Match officials: Referees – Tony Archer & Steve Lyons; Sideline Officials – Adam Devcich & Steve Carrall; Video Ref – Phil Cooley.
Televised: Channel Nine – Delayed 9.30pm; Fox Sports – Delayed 1am.
* Statistics: NRL Stats.