It was at this stage of last season the Gold Coast Titans began their almighty freefall down the NRL ladder, making this weekend’s match against the Warriors extremely important psychologically if nothing else.
The Titans entered Round 16 last season sitting pretty in fourth position on the ladder, equal first on competition points with the leaders; this season they enter the round in a similar position.
Once again they are equal on points with the leaders and they have improved a little percentage-wise to be third.
But history shows rather than push forward to a maiden finals appearance the side crashed and plummeted all the way down to 13th position by season’s end.
Injuries were the main cause of their demise and while Luke Bailey has once again been struck down and Mark Minichiello is still hurt, at this stage there hasn’t been a plague like the previous two years.
Mat Rogers returns from a lay-off, pushing Preston Campbell back to fullback and William Zillman to the bench.
With Ashley Harrison needing to get through Origin II, Daniel Conn has been added onto a six-man bench, giving the side some options.
For the Warriors, the time has come to put up or shut up. Having utilised both of their byes already, the side is currently in 11th spot, just a competition point outside the finals zone. They are fresh, having not played for over two weeks since shutting out the Knights 13-0 to get some form back.
It seems as if the expectations surrounding the Warriors are beginning to fade and those who expected a push to the finals are starting to give up on the notion.
Coach Ivan Cleary and his men no doubt want to restore some faith and make a charge.
Joel Moon returns at centre, pushing Simon Mannering into the forwards and Ben Matulino to the bench.
Captain Steve Price needs to get through Origin unscathed to take his place.
Watch out Titans: Statistics revealed this week on NRL.com showed the Titans are the most penalised team in the game on average and they come up against a Warriors outfit who is only beaten in the cleanskin stakes by the Canberra Raiders.
It is imperative the side shows some discipline and takes the referee out of the picture, otherwise the Warriors will use the advantage and take charge of field position and possibly the match. Holding-down penalties are the main problem for the Titans, so the forward pack needs to lift their game and ensure they dominate more rucks and aren’t in a position to be forced off tackled bodies too quickly.
Watch out Warriors: Preston Campbell returns to fullback this week, with Mat Rogers returning, which frees up the ‘pocket rocket’ to join the attacking line when and where he wants.
Campbell is at his best when instinctive rather then structured – and that spells trouble for the Warriors’ defence.
Unlike other fullbacks Campbell is not a huge metre-eater, averaging just 70 metres a game, but you can’t expect a man of his size to take on the teeth of defences again and again. Campbell’s role is that of another playmaker, and he does that brilliantly. He has seven line breaks, six line-break assists, 10 try assists and two tries of his own to bring the Titans another dimension.
The former Dally M Player of the Year might be getting on in years (32) but he is as elusive as he’s ever been. Should the Warriors underestimate him and his involvement they’ll be in a world of hurt.
Where it will be won: Up front in the forwards. Both sides have quality halfbacks in Scott Prince and Stacey Jones but these individuals need space to weave their magic and that can only be provided by their forward packs.
The two sides average similar metres across the ground per game, with the Warriors at 1356 metres a game and the Titans a little bit behind with 1309 metres, but it’s the dominance in which they gain the yards that will be vital.
As mentioned above the Titans have issues with being penalised for holding down – this is due to the fact they are often failing to dominate in defence and are trying to push the referees’ boundaries to compensate.
The Warriors’ forwards need to really fight hard to first get to ground (without submitting) and then get up quickly to put pressure on the Titans’ defence and draw the whistle. They then also need to get physical in defence. You might think this should be easy for the Warriors… they always have a big physical pack right? Not so – in fact, the only team with fewer dominant tackles than the Titans this season is… the Warriors.
The team that decides to roll up their sleeves and get physical and intimidating will win this game. If both stay somewhat ‘soft’, then the home-side Titans could dominate the scoreboard.
The History: Played 3; Titans 1, Warriors 2. In the only match played at Skilled Park between the two clubs the Titans prevailed 36-24 last season. However, the Warriors have managed a win against the Titans on the holiday strip winning 22-6 at Carrara Stadium in 2007.
Conclusion: It all comes down to the desire of the Warriors really. The Titans have been scraping together some wins of late but they would probably admit they are not playing great football. They need to step it up a notch or face another late-season ladder freefall.
The Warriors are getting closer to desperation stakes and if they can’t be motivated for this trip then they probably can’t be motivated.
Go for the Titans at home to be safe – but don’t be surprised if the Warriors turn up to play.
Match officials: Referees – Ben Cummins & Alan Shortall; Sideline Officials – Russell Turner & Grant Atkins; Video Ref – Tim Mander.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live 5.30pm.
* Statistics: NRL Stats.