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Titans v Sea Eagles
Skilled Park
Friday 7.35pm

The second half of the NRL regular season kicks off with a very intriguing and important clash between two top-eight sides.

The Titans have now slumped to three consecutive losses, a run that has seen them go from second place on the NRL ladder to sixth, while the Sea Eagles are also entering the encounter off the back of a loss, although they remain in fourth spot.

Both sides are 7-5 but Manly has a superior differential, giving them the edge at the halfway point.

It is only this differential that would likely keep the Sea Eagles in the top eight if they were to lose this clash, but one thing is certain: they won’t be top-four if they go down.

The Titans don’t have the same luxury, considering their differential is in the negative; it is a distinct possibility they could end the weekend outside of the finals zone if they don’t find a way to return to the winner’s circle.

Origin and injuries are affecting both sides, with the changes from last week reading this way: Titans centres Clinton Toopi and Joseph Tomane are out, with Mat Rogers and Sam Tagataese coming in. Ashley Harrison is away on Queensland duty, which sees Bodene Thompson in to start at lock. Will Matthews is off the bench leaving Ryan James, Luke O’Dwyer and William Zillman as the new faces.

For Manly, Anthony Watmough is out (for a month) with Chris Bailey coming into the second row and although Jason King wasn’t named, his omission from the final Blues’ 17 should see him suit up at prop, with Brent Kite heading back to the bench.

The side has extras named in the reserves list, with Des Hasler to choose one of Joe Galuvao, Vic Mauro or Jamie Buhrer to join the team.

Watch out Titans: The Sea Eagles are no Penrith when it comes to scoring tries from kicks, but they are the next best side with 14 tries in 12 games coming from the boot. Considering the Titans have conceded 11 from the kick, this could be a significant factor in this game.

Kieran Foran has five try assists from kicks this season while Trent Hodkinson has four, so both halves need to be pressured when it comes to attacking kicks or the results could be bad for the home side.

The Titans’ biggest weakness is cross-field kicks, where they are only successfully defusing 44 per cent of the attempts punted their way.

Watch out Sea Eagles: The Titans might be in a mini-slump but two specific stats where they are leading the NRL should pose a huge red flag to the Sea Eagles’ coaching staff. If the Gold Coast boys hit their straps and continue to lead the way in both play-the-ball speed and also starting position for sets of six, they could turn out to be one of the competition’s elite sides once more.

With a ‘fast’ play-the-ball rating on 18.5 per cent of occasions, the Titans are top dogs in the NRL – and when you are fast in the ruck, you can generally catch teams off guard to either draw penalties or make breaks.

The Titans have also started their sets of six inside their opponents half more often than any other side this year (145 times) and with this kind of field position, points are much easier to find.

Where it will be won: Defence is the key in this one.

The Titans have slipped dreadfully in the past six weeks, conceding more than 20 points every game to take their season average up to 22.9 points conceded each week.

The Sea Eagles have been much more solid at an average of 17.4 conceded, but with several stars out they will be tested more than they have been so far this season.

Both packs need to get physical with the other and win the ruck. The news about the Titans’ play-the-ball speed gives them an edge here – but only if they can continue playing like the second half against Canberra last weekend, not the first half.

If the Sea Eagles fire up and work hard they could slow down the Titans’ forwards, but they need to be wary of penalties. Both teams have given up way too many penalties this season and are amongst the NRL’s most ill-disciplined sides.

The history: Played 6; Titans 2, Sea Eagles 4. The Gold Coast snuck home in Round 7 earlier this season at Brookvale Oval to post just their second win over Manly, making it two of the past three. The sides have split the two previous games held at Skilled Park, although the Sea Eagles controversially lost by just one point in 2009 thanks to a late penalty goal.

Another close Manly win would give them five consecutive away wins by single figures for the first time since 1987.  

Conclusion: This is a tough match to tip. The Titans were much better in the second half against Canberra but essentially they are in a slump and the Sea Eagles are missing some key individuals through injury.

Scott Prince really should be able to guide his team to victory here – but it’s probably not wise to pull out your life savings to invest on this, as the loss of a few players of their own make them vulnerable.

The Sea Eagles are a side that can get gritty and find a win… plus the likes of King and dumped Origin prop Josh Perry will be out to impress. Go with your gut and enjoy the rollercoaster ride.

Match officials: Referees – Gavin Badger & Ben Cummins; Sideline Officials – Jeff Younis & Chris James; Video Ref – Sean Hampstead.

Televised: Live – Channel Nine – 7.30pm.
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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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