Warriors v Titans Preview

Warriors v Titans
Mt Smart Stadium
Sunday 2pm (NZ Time)

There might not be a more crucial game for these two sides in the run home than this Sunday afternoon clash in Auckland.

If you call yourself a Warriors fan and you are close, you really should be at this game. And if you are a Titans fan with a way of coming up with the flight money and ticket cost, what are you waiting for?

It’s sixth versus seventh, both on 24 competition points, both needing at least two more wins to be thinking finals.

This could seriously be a case of winner moves on – and loser doesn’t – with some testing games to come for both sides.

The Warriors battled hard against South Sydney, only to be over-run in the second half last week, while the Titans produced one of their best ever wins with a gritty and determined golden-point win over the Dragons at Kogarah.

So the Titans have the momentum… but the Warriors have the home-field advantage. It all adds up to a must-see match!

The home side will be missing winger Kevin Locke to injury but Bill Tupou slots in. Jerome Ropati is also hurt, forcing a reshuffle. Lewis Brown moves from the second row to centre with Ukuma Ta’ai coming into the second row.

Ben Matulino has been rewarded with a starting spot at prop, pushing Jesse Royal to the bench while Jacob Lillyman and Joel Moon have been added to an extended reserves list.

A win could get the side as high as third but a loss could see them plummet to 10th.

Not surprisingly, the Titans look very similar to last weekend, with Michael Henderson named to start at prop and Matthew White coming from the bench. Luke O’Dwyer has been named the 18th man.
They can potentially rise as high as third with a victory, or as low as 10th with a loss.

Watch out Warriors:
How good was Luke Bailey last week! Against his former club the Titans’ prop destroyed everything in his path with 181 metres and 56 tackles plus three offloads. It certainly appears as if Bailey is on a mission to ensure his side plays finals football again this season after they meekly surrendered a place in the finals last year with consecutive losses.

The Warriors’ forwards need to get up in Bailey’s face otherwise he will dictate terms. With this match likely to be decided by field position (see below) it is imperative the home side focuses on shutting the ‘Bull’ down.

Also, keep an eye on Anthony Laffranchi close to the try line as he is just one try away from 50 first grade tries.

Watch out Titans:
Five-eighth James Maloney is still pretty green in the NRL but some golden touches in matches make you realise he has a bright future.

One gets the feeling he could be due an absolute stormer some time soon. He has a solid kicking game, averaging 287 metres, plus four line-breaks and four try assists – but it is his 10 try assists and eight tries that shows he has the goods.

As an astute support runner, ball player and ball runner, Maloney is one Warrior the Titans need to keep close watch on. If they disrespect his ability, he may just emphatically prove his potential here.

Where it will be won: Field position is the crucial factor here. Both sides have shown willingness in some games to defend their line to the death but in other weeks the wall hasn’t been as strong.

At any rate, the trick is to keep the opposition out of your 20-metre zone so you don’t have to back your goal-line defence too often.

The Titans have a distinct statistical edge when it comes to average metres gained, with 1403 metres a match compared to the Warriors’ 1299 metres, but the Warriors are conceding just 1253 metres on average to the Titans’ 1331 metres.

If the home side can contain the Titans’ go-forward like they have other sides, they will bring the match back to level pegging at worst. If they can then up their own input, they could swing the ledger back to their favour.

The Gold Coast forwards need to take a leaf out of Luke Bailey’s book and get moving. Anthony Laffranchi and Mark Minichiello are always good for some hard yards but Matthew White and Michael Henderson need to lift another level.

The history:
Played 6; Warriors 2, Titans 4. The Titans are on a four-game streak against the Warriors, including a 24-18 win way back in Round 1 on the Gold Coast. There have been two previous meetings at Mt Smart Stadium, with the honours shared one apiece.

The six-point margin in Round 1 was the closest these teams have ever been, with the average winning margin in all clashes being just less than 16 points.
 
Conclusion: You can make a case to support either side in this clash. The Titans had been on a slide but they were extremely tough against the Dragons last Friday night and ground out a win – against the best grinding team in the comp.

The Warriors showed the same sort of form a few weeks ago against Penrith, so we know the two sides can defend if they want to.

In attack the talent is there with players like Scott Prince and Manu Vatuvei… it’s a tough one, so go with your gut feel.

Match officials: Referees – Tony Archer & Alan Shortall; Sideline Officials – Steve Carrall & Adam Gee; Video Ref – Steve Clark.

Televised: Fox Sports – Live 12pm (AEST)