Titans v Eels Preview

Titans v Eels
Skilled Park
Monday 7pm

Parramatta’s finals hopes are barely flickering but they will be surely snuffed out if they can’t find a way to beat the Gold Coast Titans for the first time on Monday night.

Considering the Eels have a poor away record (2-5) and the Titans are undefeated at Skilled Park this year (7-0) the chances of an upset seem slim – but upsets are certainly common during the representative season.

Parramatta are currently stuck down in 13th spot on the NRL ladder and still can’t manage to put together back-to-back wins, something they’ll need to address if they have designs on their season being extended past 26 rounds.

They are five competition points behind eighth position and with most of the teams in and around the finals zone having byes this weekend a win takes on even more significance.

For the Gold Coast the reality of an inaugural finals berth is getting closer. But by no means is it secured.

They know better than anyone how easy it is to freefall down the ladder in the back half of the year and a loss last week to the Raiders wouldn’t have helped their confidence.

They remain in third place, just a win off first but just two wins inside the top eight. Their aim now is to not only make the finals but make the top four to secure a home post-season game.

They must now find a way to return to the winner’s circle without representative forward Ashley Harrison in the side, but several other players are due to return to help their cause.

Mat Rogers returns at five-eighth, which allows Preston Campbell to move back to fullback and William Zillman to the bench. Luke Bailey returns at prop, which moves Brad Meyers back to lock and Daniel Conn to the bench.

Mark Minichiello also returns from injury, sending Josh Graham to the reserves list which includes Will Matthews, while Sam Tagataese and Bodene Thompson both miss out.

The Eels lose Jarryd Hayne to the Blues, which sees Luke Burt move to fullback and Krisnan Inu come onto the wing. The only other changes are to do with starting players, with Fuifui Moimoi due to start in place of Tim Mannah and Joe Galuvao due to start in place of Broderick Wright.

Watch out Titans: Eels rookie Daniel Mortimer is showing signs of the potential many touted from him and his two-try performance against the Panthers was pretty special for a youngster.

He now has three tries and three try assists plus a line-break assist and six line breaks in just five matches. He has shown he is a dangerous running option as well as a gifted playmaker. With more game time comes wiser decision-making skills and the Titans must be prepared for his instinctive play. If they hang off him in defence he will not hesitate to run but if they try to ‘double team’ him Mortimer is adept at finding his mates in traffic.

Watch out Eels: While goal-line defence will be critical in this clash (see below) the Eels need to be wary of the Titans from all parts of the field, particularly as they come off their own line. The Titans have scored more long-range tries (11) than any other side in the competition thanks to the speed to burn they have out wide.

With opposition teams fancying their chances against the Titans’ forwards, invariably their defensive lines compress – but this tactic is fraught with danger against a cagey Gold Coast line-up who aren’t afraid to spin the ball wide early. The pace of wingers Kevin Gordon and Chris Walker will no doubt be showcased in this match.

Where it will be won: Goal-line defence. After watching last weekend’s matches you could be forgiven for thinking both of these sides are yet to learn how to tackle. That is probably a little harsh but there were certainly occasions in the Eels’ loss to Penrith and the Titans’ loss to Canberra where the defence was as diluted as the alcohol content in a lemon, lime and bitters.

It is time for the two sides to really show some grunt and muscle up close to their lines. The Titans have shown they are capable; earlier in the season they sported one of the league’s best defences and they are still fifth in terms of points conceded this year, but they need to re-find their steel or face oblivion.

The Eels can’t boast any such form in 2009 – only three other sides have let more points past them so far this season in a worrying sign for coach Daniel Anderson.

Now, no doubt it is difficult to be switched on defensively for an entire 80 minutes but at the very least teams should be at their best defending their line. Both sides allowed easy push-over tries last weekend which quite frankly isn’t acceptable. The side who pushes up hard off their try lines when their backs are against the wall and who work as a defensive unit will win this contest.

The history: Played 2; Titans 2, Eels 0. The Eels are the only side yet to beat the Gold Coast in their more recent reincarnation as the Titans. The two teams are yet to meet at Skilled Park but the Titans are undefeated at the venue this year with a 7-0 record while the Eels’ away record reads a dismal 2-5.

Conclusion: Give me a ‘T’, give me an ‘I’, give me a ‘T’, give me an ‘A’, give me an ‘N’, give me an ‘S’, what does it spell? Victory. Back the home side all the way here.

Match officials: Referees – Steve Lyons & Matt Cecchin; Sideline Officials – Daniel Eastwood & Gavin Morris; Video Ref – Steve Clark.

Televised: Fox Sports – Live 7pm.

* Statistics: NRL Stats.