Raiders v Titans
If anything is for certain in the first game of this week’s Super Saturday clashes, it is that complacency won’t be a problem for either of these two teams who will be desperate to reverse their recent form before their seasons get away from them.
The Raiders flattered only to deceive in their Round 1 trampling of the Sharks, having been thoroughly outplayed by both Brisbane and Wests Tigers since.
The Titans actually haven’t been as bad as their current last-placed billing would suggest. They were outplayed but not outclassed against a clinical Dragons outfit in Round 1 and beat Brisbane everywhere but on the scoreboard last week, although they would prefer to forget about their drubbing from the Storm in between.
It’s already a long road back for the Titans though – no team has ever won a comp after being placed last after three rounds. The “best” (if you can call it that) was the 1989 Raiders outfit that went on to win after being 13th at the same stage.
Coach John Cartwright has had to make one injury-enforced change as the Titans search for their first win of the season –Ashley Harrison has been ruled out with a hamstring injury. Ben Ridge will start at lock in his first appearance of the year after playing four games at the end of 2010. Matt White also rejoins the side and will start at prop, meaning Anthony Laffranchi goes back to the second row and Michael Henderson goes back to a five-man bench.
Canberra coach David Furner seems to have lost patience with his side’s slow starts, bringing prop Dane Tilse into the starting side and relegating Tom Learoyd-Lahrs to the bench, where he is joined by hooker Glen Buttriss, who will sit out the opening exchanges as Travis Waddell starts in his place.
The only enforced change results from an ankle injury to second-rower Joe Picker. Trevor Thurling starts in his place, and Danny Galea and Josh Miller are added to the squad.
Scott Prince – who is one of just seven players left in the NRL to have played against the Gold Coast club in their previous incarnation as the Chargers – is just three points shy of becoming the first player to notch 500 points for any Gold Coast club.
Watch Out Titans: Raiders off-season recruit Blake Ferguson has started the season with a bang for his new club. His five tries is the most in the league so far, and he has joined Craig Bellamy (1985) and Ruben Wiki (1994) as the only Raiders players in history to score five tries after three rounds, needing one more to match Bellamy’s unique record of six in the opening month for the Green Machine.
He is one of just two players (Billy Slater is the other) to have scored two tries from inside his own half this season.
The Titans have conceded four long-range tries, which is equal most in the league so far, which will perfectly suit Ferguson, not to mention Josh Dugan who will have blown the cobwebs out with a solid run last week. Both players love to get going in space and the Titans have already shown a tendency to struggle in this department.
Danger Sign: When you see Ferguson and Dugan drop back on the Titans’ fifth tackle in mid-field position you can bet they’re both thinking the same thing: grab the ball, wind up and find some holes in any half-hearted kick-chase!
Watch Out Raiders: The last time a Gold Coast team was rooted to the foot of the table they were known as the Chargers. There are some fierce competitors on this team who will want nothing more than to start notching some wins for their club – none more than proud skipper and crafty halfback Scott Prince, or burly prop Luke Bailey.
Prince’s 25 try assists in 2010 were second to only Panther Luke Walsh, while Bailey’s 125 metres per game was the fourth best of any forward. Bailey has aimed up further this year, so far averaging a massive 139 metres per game, the fourth best among forwards, but Prince has so far been off his game.
With Bailey guaranteed to churn out big metres and drag his side into good field position look for Prince’s passes and kicks to start hitting their mark. The Titans aren’t too far away from turning it all around – they’re too good not to.
Danger Sign: It’s time for Prince to pull out something special. Look for a banana kick to bend its way onto the chest of a leaping David Mead, or a short ball switch to put Greg Bird through a hole close to the line.
Plays To Watch: A rampaging Learoyd-Lahrs taking no prisoners as he looks to earn back his starting spot; Greg Bird pushing his way through the line and offloading to a speeding Will Zillman; Raiders backs launching searching long-range runs at the Titans defence; pinpoint short kicks from Prince causing havoc close to the Raiders’ line; and Shaun Fensom and Anthony Laffranchi trying to outdo each other in the “most tackles” department.
Where It Will Be Won: The first 20 minutes. Now, we all now it’s the team that’s in front after 80 that gets the chocolates, but it’s the way these two teams have been starting games that has been causing them problems.
David Furner has taken the initiative here by reshuffling his starting pack in an attempt to have more impact in the early stages. The Raiders came home with a wet sail against a depleted Tigers and could have got the win if they hadn’t started so poorly. They have conceded an early try in every game so far (even in their Round 1 victory over the Sharks) and need to repair this because it’s not good enough against top teams.
The Titans conceded an early try in their first two losses and are actually yet to score in the first 20 minutes in any game this year. If they’d taken their early opportunities against Brisbane they could have put the game out of reach of the Broncos.
If one of these sides gets out to a 12-nil lead at the 20-minute mark, it could be all over.
The History: Played 8: Canberra 4, Gold Coast 4. It’s a pretty simple formula here: the Raiders have won all four games at Canberra Stadium, the Titans have won all four match-ups at Skilled Park. Neither of these sides much enjoys playing in the other’s backyard – will the 100 per cent home side win rate continue this Saturday in the nation’s capital?
Conclusion: Neither team takes much form into this weekend’s clash but if the opening three rounds have taught us anything it’s that form doesn’t count for a whole lot once the players are out on the park.
Both sides played very well for periods last week and showed they have match-winning potential if they can put it all together for 80 minutes.
If nothing else the incredible home side bias between these two clubs has us leaning towards the Green Machine.
Match Officials: Referees – Steve Lyons & Matt Cecchin; Sideline Officials – Steve Carrall & Adam Reid; Video Ref – Paul Simpkins.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live 5.30pm.
* Statistics: NRL Stats.