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Titans v Broncos
Skilled Park
Friday 7.30pm (Qld time)

It’s on again. The ‘big brother’ versus ‘little brother’ showdown on the holiday strip is set to light up the Gold Coast in a perfect way to kick-start Round Three NRL action.

Back are the big names Justin Hodges, Ben Hannant and Anthony Laffranchi just in time to continue the fledgling tradition of intense local derby matches between these two sides. 

We might be just two rounds into the season but already there is a call to arms for Titans fans – pack the house Friday night as your team needs you! 

The average crowd for these two teams at Skilled Park is 26,734, or 97 per cent of capacity – surely it can reach the 100 per cent threshold this Friday night?

Back-to-back losses to open the season to the Dragons and the Storm has the Titans rooted to the foot of the ladder, something not seen since inception of this franchise. You have to go back to the former Gold Coast Chargers in 1998 to see the last Gold Coast team running dead last.

Another loss would ensure their worst losing streak since 2007.

Last week’s poor display against Melbourne, where they lost 40-12, has forced coach John Cartwright into action. 

With Anthony Laffranchi back from off-season surgery and Mark Minichiello proving his fitness off the bench last week, the back row has a familiar look to it for this crucial clash.
The pair will start, with Ashley Harrison staying at lock and Greg Bird moving to five-eighth in place of Luke Capewell. In this cutthroat world of rugby league Capewell was given just two games to prove his worth at pivot but failed to do enough to stop changes. 

Bodene Thompson has also been shifted from the back row out to centre in place of Clinton Toopi while Kevin Gordon’s season is over after a serious knee injury, which allows Esikeli Tonga to join the side on the wing. Michael Henderson and Brad Meyers are the two new faces on a five-man bench.

As for the Broncos – well, they are chuffed after a great bounce-back win over the Raiders in Canberra last week. A close opening round loss to the Cowboys was backed up with a hard-fought 20-4 win against the Green Machine, a result good enough to move them up to fourth on the ladder.
The return of Hodges and Hannant for this clash gives them even more confidence. 

Hodges will slot straight back in at centre, pushing Gerard Beale to the wing and Dane Gagai out of the side, while Hannant will start at prop. This sees Shane Tronc revert to the bench and Dale Copley to miss out.

Darren Lockyer is slated to run out for the 336th time, moving him into equal third position of all-time alongside Brad Fittler. 

While on milestones, Titans halfback Scott Prince needs just seven more points to notch up 500 for the club.

Watch Out Titans: The Broncos have so far been pretty impressive at gaining good metres and field position along the ground. They are behind only the Storm with an average of 1354 metres gained each match, which is significantly higher than the Titans’ average of 1215 metres. When a team dominates go-forward they usually dominate field position and when you add to these numbers the fact the Broncos average 591 metres from kicks compared to the Titans’ 438 metres – well, an obvious shortfall has surfaced. 

Corey Parker has been awesome for the Broncos with an average 154 metres a game, so the Titans need to get up in his face quickly. With Hodges a regular three-figure man returning also, the Titans really need to meet the Brisbane attack head-on. 

Danger Sign: If Hodges is getting into dummy-half and running freely it could be another long night for the Titans. And if Scott Prince long-kicks to the Brisbane back three on the full often... look out. 

Watch Out Broncos: The Titans have shown a tendency to attack the left short side of the field whenever given a chance. With 16 short-side raids down the left side in two games, they have shown their hand. The effect of this type of attack is twofold: it can catch out lazy defenders and create breaks, or it can suck a few more defenders over, allowing for a long right-side shift on the following play. Brisbane have to be aware of the Titans’ tendency to dart down the left side but also make sure they number up for the ensuing plays. 

Danger Sign: If hooker Riley Brown starts directing troops down the short side it is a clear sign of what’s to come. Be ready for a long shift, with decoy runners galore. 

Plays To Watch: Bombing raids to the corners; Josh Hoffman backing himself in space; Sam Tagataese running wide; Hodges’ big right-foot step against the grain; Prince’s grubber kicks to the posts.

Where It Will Be Won: On the edges. After watching these two teams over the first fortnight, one gets the feeling this game will come down to a big play or two on the edges of the rucks. If this is to be the case then the Titans need to improve defensively, and quickly. The Broncos, with the likes of Sam Thaiday and Matt Gillett, have some powerful and dangerous edge runners. Gillett should have scored in the first round but for a sneaky double movement and he did plant down in week two. 

Considering the Titans have leaked 10 tries this season, with four each on the left and right edge, it could be a tough night if they don’t tighten up. 

But the home side has some strong edge runners of their own. Laffranchi is dangerous, as are Ashley Harrison and Sam Tagataese, while Greg Bird can inject himself from pivot and hit the holes hard also. The team that muscles up and forces others to go around them, not through them, will get the chocolates.

The History: Played 9; Titans 3, Broncos 6. The Broncos have won three straight against the Titans and five of the past six. In the four matches played at Skilled Park the honours are shared two apiece. Last season the Broncos inflicted their biggest win over the Titans when they triumphed 28-6 at Suncorp Stadium before backing up later in the year with a 24-10 win. 

Conclusion: The form guide says Brisbane – but if you went off form you would’ve tipped poorly last week. The return of some stars certainly gives them more strength but the Broncos won’t have it all their own way. You get the sense the Titans will be a little desperate after the poor effort last week and they’ll come out very determined to kick-start their year. Don’t be afraid to tip either way. 

Match Officials: Referees – Gavin Badger & Brett Suttor; Sideline Officials – Michael Wise & Ricky MacFarlane; Video Ref – Russell Smith. 

Televised: Channel 9 – Live 7.30pm (Qld), delayed 9.30pm (NSW); Fox Sports – Delayed 1am.

* Statistics: NRL Stats.

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