Saturday afternoon football is back in a big way, with this intriguing clash between the fourth-placed Gold Coast and the fifth-placed South Sydney.
The two sides battle it out in the specially convened timeslot, which has been added while Monday Night Football takes a rest to allow representative teams to be selected on Sunday.
The atmosphere promises to be a real throwback to yesteryear when Saturday afternoon football was a regular fixture on the league calendar. Who knows… if enough people come out the future could see a push for a return to the timeslot.
The Titans come into the clash off the back of a loss against Penrith, although they did play without linchpins Mat Rogers and Luke Bailey.
Both men return for the game against the Rabbitohs, which sees Preston Campbell return to fullback and William Zillman slot back to the bench. Aaron Cannings moves to the bench for Bailey’s return while Matt White is on an enforced holiday after his ‘crusher’ tackle on Lachlan Coote.
The Rabbitohs are fresh off a scrappy win against the struggling Sharks and will need improvement if they are to knock off the Titans at their HQ.
They have remained faithful to the winning side from last weekend; however Issac Luke has been named to start at hooker with Jamie Simpson back to the bench. Shannan McPherson and Ben Lowe have been named as extras on the bench.
Watch out Titans: Souths are a second-phase team and can really make inroads in a defence should they be allowed to pop passes at will.
So far this season they have pumped out 92 offloads to be one of the better teams in the competition, while the Titans have been using the ‘stuff-it-up-the-jumper method’ to be the least prolific of all teams when it comes to offloads with just 56 for the year. John Sutton is a colossus in this category with 23 offloads for the year so far and he is well backed up by Issac Luke (11 offloads) and David Fa’alogo (11). The Titans defenders need to wrap up the ball or expect to be back-pedalling.
The Gold Coast must also employ a solid and effective kick-chase team or prepare to be burned. The Rabbitohs lead the NRL in line breaks from kick returns – if the Titans relax on kick-chase they’ll be exploited.
Watch out Rabbitohs: Gold Coast prop and captain Luke Bailey returns from injury looking to make up for his absence. With rep teams named at the end of the weekend Bailey wants another mammoth performance to keep him in the selectors’ minds.
In his six matches this year the former Dragon is averaging 132 metres gained and is making just over 30 tackles each week, being 91 per cent effective in the process.
The other obvious weapon in the Gold Coast line-up is halfback Scott Prince. He has one last shot at unseating Johnathan Thurston for the Australian halfback jersey and while that may be at long odds, he’ll leave nothing on the paddock.
Prince has four try assists, three tries, two line-break assists and two line breaks from his five games this year but look for him to dominate and attempt to give rookie Chris Sandow a playmaking lesson.
Where it will be won: Discipline will play a major factor in this clash. Having won all three of their home games so far this year the Titans are favoured to keep their home fortress streak going but if they continue to be ill-disciplined they will invite the Rabbitohs right into the contest.
With 56 penalties conceded so far this year the Titans are last in the NRL, and as a result are putting themselves under way too much pressure.
South Sydney are the fourth most-disciplined side in the competition with just 40 penalties conceded so if they can manage to win a penalty count on the Gold Coast they’ll have every chance to dominate field position.
With an impressive attacking set of halves and speedy outside backs they could really trouble the Titans so the home side needs to be sure to lift their game and stop flouting the laws.
The History: Played 3; Titans 1, Rabbitohs 2. The Titans won the very first contest between the two clubs; however the Bunnies have won the past two. The three games have all been close, with the Titans winning the first game in 2007 by seven points, the Rabbitohs winning the second in 2007 by six points before last year’s thriller won 24-23 by South Sydney. This will be the first time the two teams come together at Skilled Park.
Conclusion: South Sydney has the firepower and the game to beat the Titans but that doesn’t mean they will do it. The Gold Coast grows extra legs at home and with Bailey and Rogers back they’ll be a more settled unit.
Despite the blow-out loss to Penrith the Titans still have the third-best defence in the NRL and if they can get it back in order for this game the Rabbitohs might find it hard to penetrate. They need to be on song to crack the Titans. Their offloads need to stick and their halves and Craig Wing need to have big games.
The Titans are the safe bet but if you are looking for a game to go against the trend, this could be it as the home side is backing up from Monday night football while the Bunnies played last Friday night.
Match officials: Referees – Ashley Klein & Chris James; Sideline Officials – Gavin Reynolds & Ricky McFarlane; Video Ref – Tim Mander.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live 3pm.
* Statistics: NRL Stats.