If you think these two sides enter this match content, knowing they’ll be around in the finals, then you are seriously underestimating their desires and the mammoth importance of this result.
For the home-side Titans this match is a must-win if they want to host a home final – a huge advantage in the opening week of the post-season.
For the Wests Tigers, a spot in the top two is on the line, the only place on the ladder which guarantees a second bite of the cherry should you lose your first final.
And besides this, both sides want to come into the finals with a winning feeling, not the drop in confidence that comes with a loss.
It all adds up to what should be a sell-out crowd, a massive atmosphere and one hell of a contest. Essentially, it’s finals time come early. Imagine the psychological advantage for the side that wins if they meet again in September.
The Titans come into the match in fourth spot on the ladder and can actually steal second spot themselves if they win by 10 or more points and the Panthers lose to the Sharks.
While the Sharks have been much tougher in recent weeks the reality is a win should be the Titans’ first goal as it would guarantee a top-four berth, then the 10-point margin should be next on the list as it would see them leapfrog the Tigers to at least third.
After falling to the Sharks last weekend, snapping a five-game winning run, the side has just the one change.
Anthony Laffranchi returns to the second row, which moves Greg Bird back to the bench and Sam Tagataese out of the side.
The Wests Tigers put themselves in the box seat to take second by beating Melbourne last week. Believe it or not, since entering the league as a joint venture in 2000, the Tigers have only been second on the ladder for 12 total weeks!
A win here makes second a certainty for the side; however, a loss by 10 or more and a Penrith win drops the side to fourth and into the Friday night final from which the loser was eliminated in Week One last season. If they lose by less than 10 they will still hold on to second or at worst be third.
Fullback Wade McKinnon is out injured, giving Mitch Brown a start at the back, while Chris Lawrence’s broken jaw means he’ll be replaced by Geoff Daniela in the centres. John Skandalis is also out of the side with the new guys on the bench being Willie Mataka and Daniel Fitzhenry.
Watch out Titans: This match shapes as a big one for Wests Tigers hooker Robbie Farah. The Tigers have scored 10 tries from dummy-half this season, which is equal first in the league, and the Titans have conceded nine from the same area, which ranks them third last.
In terms of dummy-half line-breaks the Wests Tigers have nine and the Titans have let 11 through the gates, ranking them second last.
Farah has six dummy-half line-breaks and will be out to terrorise the Gold Coast defence. The Titans’ markers need to be switched on at all times.
Watch out Wests Tigers: The Gold Coast are the best side in the NRL at forcing line drop-outs but it is two types of their attacking kicks in this game that could bring points rather than pressure.
The Wests Tigers are the worst side in the NRL at defusing chip kicks; with Scott Prince, the Titans have an expert at the practice. The Tigers successfully defuse just 56 per cent of chip kicks, giving Prince and co. a massive green light to use it.
If chip kicks are on the menu, so too will be cross-field bombs. The Wests Tigers defuse just 47 per cent of cross-field kicks and with a new-look backline, this number could get even worse.
Where it will be won: The battle of the back row is the pivotal one here. Of course the match-up of key playmakers like Scott Prince and Benji Marshall will be massive also, but the back row of both teams brings plenty of grunt to the contest.
For the Wests Tigers it is Chris Heighington, Gareth Ellis and this week Simon Dwyer as Liam Fulton is still injured.
Heighington is averaging 112 metres and 31 tackles a match, has five line-breaks, five line-break assists, three try assists, four tries, 93 tackle-breaks and 26 offloads. Ellis runs 106 metres and makes more than 30 tackles a game, has five line-breaks, three line-break assists, three try assists, four tries, 46 tackle-breaks and 10 offloads.
Dwyer’s involvement is much less having played most of his games from the bench but when starting last week against Melbourne he punched out 109 metres and added 30 tackles.
For the home side Titans, the back row consists of Mark Minichiello, Anthony Laffranchi and Ashley Harrison, with Greg Bird ready to come from the bench. Harrison is making 95 metres and adding 35 tackles a match plus he has three line-breaks, a line-break assist, a try assists and three tries. Laffranchi averages 105 metres and 33 tackles and has added nine line-breaks, seven tries, 45 tackle-breaks and 30 offloads. Minichiello runs 102 metres and makes 20 tackles each week and has 12 line-breaks, three line-break assists, nine tries, 94 tackle-breaks and 16 offloads.
The history: Played 6; Titans 3, Wests Tigers 3. The Tigers got home by a single point earlier this year at Campbelltown to square the ledger against the Titans. There have been two matches prior at Skilled Park, with both sides taking a win apiece. The average winning margin between the clubs is just over eight points.
Conclusion: A few injuries to the Wests Tigers’ line-up and the home ground advantage probably gives the Titans the edge here as they look to lock up a top-four berth and the home semi that goes with it.
The result is just that tad more important to the home side; as such you could probably lean their way with confidence.
But the Wests Tigers are certainly in the contest and can’t be discounted. It should be a close one – a real cracker.
Match officials: Referees – Tony Archer & Gavin Badger; Sideline Officials – Paul Holland & Adam Devcich; Video Ref – Steve Clark.
Televised: Channel Nine – Live 7.30pm (NSW), delayed 9.30pm (Qld & ACT); Fox Sports – Delayed 11.30pm.