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Des Hasler previews the clash

Sea Eagles v Titans
Brookvale Oval
Saturday 7.30pm

Both of these teams may well be safe inside the top eight but their position within the finals zone is still very much on the line in this huge clash at Brookie.

The home-side Sea Eagles, currently fifth, will know before kick-off if they can potentially leapfrog Melbourne into the top four and gain a home final. And depending on Friday night’s result they will know just how far they can potentially fall down the grid as well.

If the Eels beat the Dragons, they will start the match against the Gold Coast in sixth place.

If they were to lose against the Titans, it could see them fall as low as eighth depending on the size of their loss and what would need to be a big Newcastle win over Penrith.

Brisbane would also need to beat Canberra for this to materialise.

Now while eighth might be far-fetched, it is entirely conceivable they may finish seventh, which is another sudden-death spot, so the motivation to beat the Titans and at worst finish fifth is high.

The Gold Coast on the other hand cannot finish worse than third – but if the Dragons have fallen to the Eels the night before then they will have the opportunity to push up into second place on the ladder, a place of privilege as it ensures a week off in the finals should you win in Week One.

Even if the Titans cannot move to second they will be out to prove their worth against the reigning premiers and will not want to enter the finals on the back of a loss.

Manly enter the match after a very scratchy and lucky win over Cronulla last weekend.

Jason King is out injured, with Brent Kite selected to start at prop in his place.

Manly coach Des Hasler has named three potential replacements for the vacant bench spot in Adam Cuthburtson, Vic Mauro and newly inducted Toyota Team of the Year player Jared Waerea-Hargreaves.

The Titans were victorious late in the piece against a desperate Wests Tigers unit last weekend; their only change sees Brad Meyers out with a hand injury and Will Matthews in on the bench, while Selasi Berdie has been added as an 18th man.

Watch out Sea Eagles: Veteran Mat Rogers has found some form in recent weeks for the Titans, scoring a neat try and setting up another to ensure victory against the Wests Tigers.
After some niggling injuries have disrupted his season to 17 games it appears Rogers is fully fit and firing again. He has 12 line breaks for the season to date, 11 line-break assists, eight try assists and 11 tries – making him a very valuable commodity to the Titans team.

While focus needs to be placed on Scott Prince and Preston Campbell, the Sea Eagles must also ensure Rogers’ involvement is limited if they want to craft a win.

Watch out Titans: Anthony Watmough has had two reasonably quiet weeks – which means he could be due to have a mammoth game. The destroyer has run 138 metres a match on average this season and has 13 line breaks, 126 tackle breaks and eight tries for the year.

It is not uncommon for the back-rower to explode every now and then and have a 200 metres-plus game, so the Titans must be wary of his impact. The trick can be to direct traffic at him in attack, as his defence is a weakness and can tire him out a little.

Where it will be won:
Orford v Prince. The battle of these two halfbacks could well be the determining factor in this game. Both have perennially been on the edge of representative selections and while Prince has had more chances in that regard, both could have played more than they have with a little luck here and there.

Prince is a former Clive Churchill Medal winner; Orford is the reigning Dally M Medal winner. Both are extremely important to their team and their chances of victory. Putting their season stats head to head you find Prince has averaged 49 metres running, 345 metres kicking, has six line breaks, 19 line-break assists, seven tries and 22 try assists from 21 games, while Orford has 44 running metres a game, 311 kicking metres, six line breaks, 14 line-break assists, two tries and 21 try assists from 23 games.

These stats suggest Prince has been slightly better than his rival – however this match is at Brookvale, potentially the last at the venue for the year, so the Manly captain should lift.

The history: Played 4; Sea Eagles 3, Titans 1. The Titans grabbed their only win over the Sea Eagles earlier this year with a controversial 18-17 victory on the Gold Coast (when Orford was penalised for an illegal challenge on Preston Campbell and Prince nailed a decisive penalty from in front). In the two matches played previously at Brookvale Oval the home side won 28-10 (2008) and 20-6 (2007).

Conclusion: The Sea Eagles probably deserve favouritism despite a pretty sad effort against the depleted Sharks last week. The Titans have shown they can win away this year – but are still only 5-6 on the road and are yet to win at Brookvale Oval.

The Titans’chances could hinge on the Friday night results. If they can do no better than third they might come out a little flat; however if a top-two spot is on the line they could come out much tougher.

Similarly the Sea Eagles may just fire up deluxe if the Warriors upset Melbourne and a home final is available.

The Titans are capable of winning this match… but our ‘feel’ is the Sea Eagles might just get them.

Match officials: Referees – Shayne Hayne & Bernard Sutton; Sideline Officials – Grant Atkins & Paul Holland; Video Ref – Steve Clark.

Televised: Fox Sports – Live 7.30pm.

* Statistics: NRL Stats.
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National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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