Titans v Roosters preview

Titans v Roosters
Skilled Park
Saturday 5.30pm

Just over seven months ago these two teams suited up in far different circumstances. They were a win away from a grand final, in form and looking like sides that had all the ingredients for long-term NRL success.

But what a difference – now, after seven rounds of the new season, both the Titans and the Roosters have just a pair of wins each; they sit in lowly 13th and 12th respectively on the NRL ladder and look anything but premiership contenders.

In defence of the Roosters, they actually gave the Dragons a mighty challenge on Anzac Day before falling short, so perhaps they are beginning to turn things around.

But the Titans were close to woeful against the Eels in a scrappy match last Sunday, giving their fans little reason to be optimistic about the year going forward.

They return home prepared to stick with the same 17 who lost in the dying stages against the Eels, although Matthew White is due to start at prop with Michael Henderson going back to the bench.

There is the slight chance of the late inclusion of Preston Campbell also.

The Roosters have decided to shift Mitchell Aubusson back to the centres with the return of Tom Symonds to the second row. Phil Graham moves to the bench. Prop Jason Ryles is also back, pushing Mose Masoe to the reserves’ list.

The time has come for one of these sides to get their year headed in the right direction – because another loss now is going to have them chasing teams uphill for the remainder of the season… and don’t forget the representative fixtures are coming, a disruption for most sides.

Watch Out Titans: One Rooster who is primed for a big performance is captain Braith Anasta. Thrust back into the five-eighth jersey following all of the Todd Carney issues, Anasta is taking it upon himself to lead his side back into the winner’s circle.

He may have won only three of his seven matches against the Titans but Anasta has scored five tries in those games. He also has six line-breaks and five try assists against the Gold Coast – a sure sign he lifts to take them on. With another week to perfect his combination with Mitchell Pearce, Anasta could well be the difference against the Titans’ makeshift pivot William Zillman.

And with City-Country teams named after this round, Anasta may pull out a belter, just to remind selectors he’s still a capable impact player.

Danger Sign: Anasta is at his most dangerous when he takes on the line. The Titans should be prepared to commit numbers to him early as he looks to run – but should also be aware he has an astute passing game and one of the game’s best centres in Shaun Kenny-Dowall outside him.

Watch Out Roosters: The Titans are ready to hit the right edge, all night long. The Roosters have conceded an NRL-high 10 tries on the right fringe, meaning their left-side defence is having all sorts of problems.

The Gold Coast side is full of potential danger men, with Ashley Harrison, Mark Minichiello and Greg Bird all established edge runners. Ryan James can come off the bench and cause havoc here also.

Danger Sign: While the mentioned forwards need to be watched on the fringes, also watch for Zillman to have a crack himself. He has a taste for the try line now with five for the year. He’s explosive off the mark and while his defensive play in his new No.6 jersey may be a tad suspect, there’s no doubting he’s revelling in attack.

Plays To Watch: The Titans targeting short-side corridors; grubbers for the fleet-footed SKD; ex-Dragons mates Jason Ryles and Luke Bailey charging into each other without fear; Anasta and Zillman backing themselves on the spur of the moment.

Where It Will Be Won: Scott Prince v Mitchell Pearce. The Roosters went into last season’s grand final qualifier extremely confident for one major reason… they don’t really rate Scott Prince. They are aware he has won plenty of games for his side before, has won a premiership and a Clive Churchill Medal, but our mail is they were solid in the belief that if they applied the blowtorch to his game, he would crumble.

When Prince has time to weave his magic, he is brilliant. But when he is hustled and bustled by the opposition, his game has been known to unravel. The Roosters will look to do this to him again, like they did successfully in the finals in 2010.

Last week Prince was accused of playing in his dinner suit by ex-teammate Chris Walker… you probably won’t hear any big statements out of the Roosters’ camp but you can believe they feel the same way.

Meanwhile, Mitchell Pearce is also struggling a little this season. The likely NSW halfback knows he needs to find something extra to lift his side without Carney in the squad. He needs to control the tempo of the game, keep his side on track and keep them composed when deep in attack.

The Roosters had enough quality ball and field position to win three games against the Dragons but forced the last pass or took the wrong option way too often. It is up to Pearce to keep a cool head here.

The halfback who wins the head-to-head-battle will be the one singing the victory song afterwards.

The History: Played 7; Titans 4, Roosters 3. The Titans might have a slight edge but the Roosters have won two of the past three, including when it mattered most – in last year’s grand final qualifier.

The teams have met just once before at Skilled Park, when the Roosters prevailed 30-16 in Round 12 last year. If you discount last year’s finals blow-out (32-6) the average winning margin between these teams is just 6.8 points.

Conclusion: If the Roosters can continue the form they showed against the Dragons you could be fairly confident they have what it takes to win here. But, they have lacked any semblance of consistency this year, so who knows?

One thing is for sure – if the Titans continue to play like last week they will have their “arses smacked” as Scott Prince so delicately put it in the post-match media conference.

Heading back to Skilled Park should help the Titans but this is still anybody’s game. Might be time to toss a coin.

Match officials: Referees – Matt Cecchin & Gavin Reynolds; Touch Judges – Jeff Younis & Michael Wise; Video Ref – Chris Ward.

Televised: Fox Sports – Live 5.30pm.

* Statistics: NRL Stats.

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