Titans v Warriors Preview

Titans v Warriors
Skilled Park
Sunday 1pm (Qld time)

Before a ball has even been kicked in this first round match-up, the New Zealand-based side is crying foul – and perhaps with good reason.

With the temperatures expected to soar around the 1pm kick-off time, the Titans have elected to wear their alternate white strip, forcing the Warriors into wearing their black outfits, which sparked some outrage across the ditch.

We say ‘well played’ Titans, as it is within their rights to do so… but at the end of the day it will just make the Warriors hungrier to grab their first win at Skilled Park.

The Titans shape up nicely for the new season after making the finals for the first time in 2009, with many predicting a stellar year should they remain injury-free. They defeated Souths 28-22 before falling 22-4 to the Cowboys in Darwin during the trials.

New recruit Joseph Tomane gets a crack in the centres and Greg Bird is officially five-eighth.

The Warriors, on the other hand, are a team people differ on, with some experts calling them finals bound and others predicting a wooden spoon.

They opened the trials with a 26-8 win over the Roosters, then backed it up with a 28-6 win over the Cowboys, before settling for a 16-all draw with Manly.

They are without new captain Simon Mannering and old captain Steve Price, leaving Micheal Luck to skipper the side.

Lance Hohaia is fullback, with Wade McKinnon on the bench, Brent Tate is back in NRL action after an injury-ravaged 2009, while the halves pairing is James Maloney and Brett Seymour.

Watch out Titans: The two wingers in black jerseys are contrasting but equally dangerous. Big Manu Vatuvei is back in business on one flank for the Warriors, and coming up against a smaller Titan backline would make the Kiwi monolith salivate. He averaged 135 metres a match last year and had 11 line-breaks, with 13 tries and 81 tackle breaks. Should he stay fully fit these figures will surely rise.
 
On the other wing is young speed machine Kevin Locke. Still building his way into NRL football, Locke has pace and skill to burn and can scorch the turf from long range. The Titans will be looking to stop the ball getting wide.

Watch out Warriors: Greg Bird has plenty to prove, even if he plays it all down in the lead-up. Bird has been the focus for all the wrong reasons in the past few years and now has the opportunity to do what he does best – play footy.

He is a triple threat as a footballer. He can run through the line, he can pass before the line and he can offload in traffic. Gifted players like him become hard to defend against and with extra defenders on watch, Scott Prince will have the freedom to do even more. The Warriors shouldn’t get gun shy though; they need to pressure the halves pairing and force them into decisions. If they hold off, they’ll get smoked.

Where it will be won: Completion rates are the absolute key here. If it is as hot as many predict it might get, then we are guaranteed to get points scored off the back or errors and missed tackles.

Both teams will have lapses and the side that has more ball will get more chance to crack the weary defence. Last season, the two sides were almost identical in handling errors so there appears to be no lean either way in that regard.

However the Titans missed 51 more tackles over the regular season than the Warriors, so maybe the Kiwi-based side has a sniff? Well, if they are creating and finishing off more chances than last year they do. You see, the side only scored 28 tries direct from line-breaks last year, while the Titans managed 40. When you make a break, you have to finish it off.

Sadly for the Warriors, they allowed 48 tries from other teams’ line-breaks so their scramble was the worst in the league.

The History: Played 5; Titans 3, Warriors 2. After the Warriors won the first two matches between the clubs the Titans have won the past three straight, including two matches last season.

At Skilled Park the Titans have won two of two, with the average winning margin being 14 points. In fact, the closest margin in all five previous meetings between the sides has been 12, so the precedent is there for a one-way result.

Conclusion: The Titans at home are difficult to tip against, especially when they front up against a Warriors side without their top two leaders. If it gets hot, the Warriors will melt, but the Titans have been acclimatising all summer. There is enough skill in the Warriors’ unit to produce an upset… but it’s unlikely. Stick with the Gold Coast.

Match officials: Referees – Matt Cecchin & Chris James; Sideline Officials – Luke Potter & Adam Devcich; Video Ref – Phil Cooley.

Televised: Fox Sports 2 – Live from 2pm (AEDT).