Usually when we use the phrase ‘under the radar’ in the NRL, it is somehow connected to Manly, as their coach Des Hasler wants everything to do with his side related as such – but it could most certainly also apply to the Gold Coast Titans as they quietly go about their business.
Sure, the side lost in their last start to Brisbane. Sure, they are on the sixth line of betting at around $12 to win the title… but the Titans are running third without really hitting their potential and should be considered a real shot at glory come October 3.
With the benefit of the bye behind them and just Ashley Harrison backing up post-Origin, the Gold Coast enters this clash against the Roosters in good shape. They could even end up leading the competition with a victory, should the Dragons and Penrith fail to win over the weekend.
Clinton Toopi has recovered from injury to take his place in the centres, meaning Josh Graham misses out.
The Roosters also come into this match rested from the bye – but hurting from a last-start loss to Newcastle. The side is outside the top eight on percentages, making these mid-season games crucial for their finals fight.
In welcome news, halfback Mitchell Pearce returns from injury, which sees Todd Carney back to fullback, Anthony Minichiello onto the wing, Phil Graham moving into the centres and Ben Jones missing out.
In other changes, Jake Friend will start at hooker, with James Aubusson to impact from the bench; Lopini Paea is out and replaced by Mose Masoe; and Aidan Guerra is also missing with Nick Kouparitsas back into the line-up.
Barring injury, Nate Myles will be expected to back up from Origin.
Watch out Titans: The home side have conceded the most kick-return line-breaks in the NRL with five – or one every two games – and with Todd Carney returning to fullback for the Roosters, their chances to attack from the back look more realistic than over the past few weeks. Look for Carney to link up with Anthony Minichiello and Sam Perrett should the opportunity present. Minichiello might be back on the wing, but he loves playing big games against his brother Mark, so he’ll be hunting for the ball.
The Titans must provide good kick-chase – otherwise they could be chasing their tails straight back up the field.
Watch out Roosters: Scott Prince might be looking to chance his hand from mid range this Monday given the Roosters are the worst side in the NRL at conceding tries from between 21 and 50 metres.
The Roosters have had defensive lapses in this section of the field to the tune of 14 tries put past them, as they fail to scramble quickly enough to prevent breaks becoming tries.
The Titans have scored nine tries from this range so far in 2010, making them the fifth best side in the competition. With this in mind Brian Smith will be telling his men to be switched on defensively at all times, in all sections of the field.
Where it will be won: This looks likely to be decided across the key positions of 1, 6, 7 and 9. With both teams sporting fullbacks who chime in as playmakers, hookers who like to get “dirty” defensively, five-eighths who are equally at home at lock, and out-and-out old-school halfbacks, it will be the quartet who fires that gets the result for their side.
At fullback it’s Preston Campbell v Todd Carney. Both love to add a dimension as playmakers and are hard to tackle.
Campbell is averaging 61 metres a match running and 163 metres kicking, while he has posted four line-breaks, a line-break assist, three tries, three try assists, 31 tackle-breaks and five offloads.
Carney averages 98 metres running, 140 metres kicking and has seven line-breaks, eight line-break assists, six tries, six try assists, 49 tackle-breaks and 14 offloads.
At hooker it is the two Friends – Nathan for the Titans and Jake for the Roosters. Nathan averages 53 metres running, has a line-break, four line-break assists, seven try assists and pulls off 42 tackles a match. Jake, only just back into first grade is starting his first match after two from the bench where he averaged 18 tackles and produced a line-break assist.
Now to the halves: the Titans pairing of Greg Bird and Scott Prince up against the Roosters’ Braith Anasta and Mitchell Pearce. All four have played Origin football (although none are in this week’s showcase). Bird is running for 106 metres, kicking for 89 metres and has two line-breaks, four line-break assists, three tries, four try assists, 30 tackle-breaks and 24 offloads while his opposite Anasta is running for 43 metres, kicking 142 metres and has posted two line-breaks, six line-break assists, two tries, five try assists, 17 tackle-breaks and six offloads.
As for Prince, the Titans’ general only runs for 33 metres a match – but kicks for a mammoth 450 metres each game. He has a line-break, six line-break assists, two tries and six try assists.
Pearce, returning from injury with the knowledge he probably would’ve played Wednesday night if fit, averages 57 metres running and 272 metres kicking. So far his numbers read three line-breaks, seven line-break assists, five tries and seven try assists.
The history: Played 4; Titans 3, Roosters 1. The Roosters won the first encounter between the two clubs but since then it has been all Gold Coast, with the Titans grabbing three consecutive wins.
Surprisingly this is the first time the two sides will meet at Skilled Park. The winning margin for all four games has been six or less points, so perhaps a close game looms.
Conclusion: Tough to tip against the Titans at home but the Roosters are a good chance here.
If you are feeling particularly adventurous you could go for the upset but the lean is certainly towards the Gold Coast. A lot rests on Pearce and his ability to be at his best after a lay-off.
Match officials: Referees – Jared Maxwell & Steve Lyons; Sideline Officials – David Abood & Michael Wise; Video Ref – Paul Simpkins.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live 7pm.