Titans v Warriors Preview

Titans v Warriors
Skilled Park
Friday 7.45pm

Don’t for a second think these two sides will hold anything back in Week One of the finals.

While the McIntyre System generally protects these two sides from elimination, there are certainly no guarantees… just ask Manly from last year!

If two of the three lower teams manage to jag a win over the weekend, then the loser of this match is history – just like that – it’s all over.
 
With the Raiders in form and the Roosters capable of anything on their day, plus the Dragons previous record as scratchy finalists, it is entirely possible this situation could eventuate.

If this isn’t motivation to give it everything, then we’re not sure what is.

Also, if this scenario does go down, then the winner would earn a week off and grab a regional home final in the grand final qualifier stage of Week Three!

So yes, while it might just turn out to be a dead rubber… it might as easily be much more important and as such we will be privy to a cracking match.

The Titans warmed up for the finals with a hard-fought win against fellow contenders the Wests Tigers last week and it took their recent tally to six wins from the past seven starts.

They welcome back livewire fullback Preston Campbell for the clash, which sees William Zillman move to the wing and Jordan Atkins join an extended bench.

Prop Luke Bailey also returns but Anthony Laffranchi stays in the front row and Matthew White moves to the bench, allowing Greg Bird to start in the second row once more.

For the Warriors, last week provided a win against the Eels, taking their recent form to five from six. Seven weeks ago they did however fall to the Gold Coast in Auckland.

They are boosted by the return of warhorse Micheal Luck, who missed two games after sustaining a horror gash to his leg reminiscent of a shark bite.

He comes back in at lock, which shifts Jacob Lillyman to the bench. Joel Moon has also been added to the reserves list, which has six players at this early stage.

Prop Russell Packer celebrates his 50th NRL game, while winger Manu ‘The Beast’ Vatuvei needs just one try to claim the club’s all-time try-scoring record. His 77th career try last weekend drew him level with Stacey Jones’ mark and he also equalled Sean Hoppe’s regular season record of 19 tries.

Watch out Titans:
We mentioned it in the preview last week and the Wests Tigers proved it to be correct – the Titans are susceptible to clever dummy-half play; they need to tighten up their marker defence. Robbie Farah carved them up last Friday night and almost jagged a Dally M medal in the process.

The Warriors have made 13 line-breaks from dummy half this season, which is the third most in the NRL. The Gold Coast have now conceded 12 from dummy-half, which is the equal worst in the competition. The home side have also conceded nine tries from dummy-half, which is the third worst in the NRL.

It’s quite simple – the Titans’ middle defenders need to dominate the tackle and if they don’t they still need to fight to be up and square so they can’t be exploited.

Watch out Warriors: Discipline could be a real concern for the visitors. A vocal home crowd, no doubt to be sold out, will be very one-sided and while penalties are generally minimal in finals matches, the ones that do come are usually critical. The Titans have given away 132 penalties this season but the Warriors gave away 152, which was the second worst in the NRL for the regular season.

They had big problems in the areas of holding down, offside, late tackles, leg-pulls, ball stealing and markers not square. One penalty could be the difference between moving on and elimination so they must be as close to squeaky clean as possible.

James Maloney has to be singled out here – the five-eighth has been hammered 28 times this year (and sin-binned last week), while his nearest team-mates were penalised just nine times.
 
Where it will be won: The battle between the crucial playmakers, halfback, five-eighth and fullback will be massive here and have a huge bearing on the result. The forward packs have similar output over the season and the outside backs have some size or speed but it is in the 1,6 and 7 jerseys where this game will be decided.

The home side have the luxury of the best halfback left in the finals in Scott Prince. Despite being under a small injury cloud, we are assured he will play – and it’s a good thing too. When he was off the field last week the Titans struggled but when he returned he clinched the game. So far this year he has three line-breaks, 16 line-break assists, four tries, 22 try assists, 30 tackle-breaks and 22 errors.
 
For the Warriors the halfback job falls to Brett Seymour. Having played just half the season his numbers aren’t as good and he will need to lift to get to Prince’s level. Seymour has one line-break, four line-break assists, one try, 12 try assists, nine tackle-breaks and 10 errors.

At five-eighth the Titans have veteran Mat Rogers who comes into the clash with plenty of big game experience across two codes. Rogers, who takes a back seat to Prince but who comes up with vital touches, has four line-breaks, seven line-break assists, five tries, seven try assists, 58 tackle-breaks and 16 errors.  

For the Warriors James Maloney is the man at pivot. As a relative rookie he has been impressive all season; he has seven line-breaks, four line-break assists, 10 tries, 14 try assists, 50 tackle-breaks and 28 errors. One of the features of his game is support play and the ability to attack from a long way out from the line.

At fullback the Titans have a former Dally M Medal-winning halfback in Preston Campbell. The pocket rocket is a perfect link into the side and can get attack started as well as provide for others. Campbell has 10 line-breaks, six line-break assists, three tries, eight try assists, 66 tackle-breaks – but 32 errors for the year.

The Warriors also have a former half in Lance Hohaia at the back. Hohaia has nine line-breaks, four line-break assists, six tries, six try assists, 82 tackle-breaks to go with 16 errors.

Another critical part of this game will be cross-field kicks. The Titans are defusing just 50 per cent of all cross-field kicks and the Warriors are worse at 47 per cent. The wingers will be under the pump as Titans duo William Zillman and Kevin Gordon have defused just 25 and 36 per cent respectively, while the Warriors have a massive concern as Vatuvei is at 29 per cent and Kevin Locke is at zero – yes that’s right, zero per cent success on cross-field kicks!

The history: Played 7; Titans 5, Warriors 2. The Titans have won five in a row against the Warriors including two previous matches this season. The Titans prevailed 28-20 at Mt Smart Stadium in Auckland recently and also won 24-18 at Skilled Park way back in Round 1.

The Titans have a 100 per cent, three-from-three record against the Warriors at Skilled Park.

While this year’s clashes were close, an average 17.6 points decided the other five games.

Conclusion: It really is anyone’s game here, as the Warriors have proven they can travel well this year. But the home side, with a fit Scott Prince, are likely to have a small edge.

Prince’s class looks to be the biggest difference between the teams and as such the lean would be slightly to the Titans.
 
But expect a close one, even if the history between the clubs suggests otherwise.

Match officials: Referees – Tony Archer & Gavin Badger; Sideline Officials – Paul Holland & Russell Turner; Video Ref – Bill Harrigan.

Televised: Channel Nine – Live 7.30pm; Fox Sports – Delayed 10.30pm.