Battle of the backrowers: Laffranchi

Gold Coast forward Anthony Laffranchi says the challenge of facing Manly’s back-row pair of Anthony Watmough and Glenn Stewart is all the motivation he needs ahead of tomorrow night’s semi-final preview at Brookvale Oval.<br><br>Laffranchi was the unlucky man to be dumped from the NSW State of Origin side for the second and third games earlier this year with both Watmough and Stewart called up in his place.<br><br>But with the pressure now on Manly to keep their premiership defence running, the Titans veteran is out to make a statement as his side pushes for an unlikely top-two finish.<br><br>“Every week I want to go out and put my best performance on the park but this week I am coming up against the two Origin back-rowers that were there,” he said.<br><br>“You do get excited playing against these sorts of guys.<br><br>“I’ve played alongside them in Test and Origin footy and obviously I missed out this year when they came into the team. But I want to bring my best footy with me.<br><br>“Watmough in particular is in great form so it would be good to get one over them.”<br><br>The Titans may have already secured an advantageous top-four finish but they’ve still got plenty to play for. Another win tomorrow night could lift them above St George Illawarra and into second spot depending on the result of tonight’s Dragons-Eels clash, while they can also put a huge dent in Manly’s title defence with the Sea Eagles potentially dropping as low as seventh.<br><br>“I suppose if Parra win tonight it adds a little bit more to our game – a little bit more to play for,” Laffranchi said.<br><br>“We could be playing for a top-two spot.<br><br>“It’s not that we don’t care if we win – it’s important for us to keep things going – but it would add a bit of sweetness to the victory.<br><br>“Either way [Manly] is a challenge that is probably needed heading into the finals and a good gauge of our form. <br><br>“It’s a chance for us to put one final stamp on our preparations ahead of what is going to be a very exciting time for our club.”<br><br>Laffranchi said he was particularly impressed by his side’s ability to put aside the excitement of reaching their first finals series in recent weeks with the Titans currently riding a four-game winning streak.<br><br>“That’s the beauty of what we’ve been doing this year,” he said.<br><br>“The past two years we’ve reached the halfway mark and have been near the top of the ladder but we probably looked too far ahead and really fell away. <br><br>“We did have injuries but mentally we fell away. <br><br>“This year we’ve really been focused on the job at hand. <br><br>“We enjoy a win for the next 24 hours or so, but come Monday we’re really preparing for the following week rather than thinking about the finals. <br><br>“We’ve been very conscious of that – the finals will take care of themselves when we get there. <br><br>“In saying that, the past few weeks have been really enjoyable with a little bit of pressure taken off. <br><br>“The guys are starting [to] build up and the hype that goes with it. We’re going to have a home final too, which will be great.”<br><br>The Gold Coast are also gunning for another record in coming weeks, with a win over the Sea Eagles equalling their longest ever winning streak of five (Rounds 3-7 in 2008).<br><br>But Laffranchi said it was important to remember the job was only half done.<br><br>“We want to win the premiership and we’ve given ourselves the best chance to do that – we’re going to finish either second or third – but we don’t want to get there and just make up the numbers,” he said.<br><br>“We want to give the finals a good crack. <br><br>“After tomorrow night we’ll know who we are playing and then it will be down to business to prepare for that team and that week. <br><br>“They’re all do or die challenges from there.”<br><br><b>Late news:</b><br><br>•&nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp;Titans prop Luke Bailey remains in doubt with a virus that kept him away from training for much of the week;<br>•&nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp;Jason Nightingale has been called into the Dragons’ squad for tonight’s big clash with Parramatta, while Broderick Wright replaces injured veteran Nathan Hindmarsh for the Eels; and<br>•&nbsp;&nbsp; &nbsp;Cory Paterson is expected to come into the Newcastle squad for their must-win clash with Penrith following the shoulder injury suffered by Zeb Taia against Canberra on Monday night.