Titans v Warriors
The last time these teams met we witnessed an absorbing semi-final contest at this very ground and although the Titans won the match 28-16, you sensed both teams had plenty more to offer in the 2010 competition.
Sadly for the Warriors, despite finishing the regular season in fifth place, they were gone from the title race the following evening when two lower-ranked sides (the Roosters and Raiders) caused upset wins.
It’s a pain that still burns within the Warriors and while the blame can’t be fully attributed to the Titans, there will still be thoughts of payback on their minds.
Then there’s the fact they have now lost six on the trot to the Gold Coast and have never won at Skilled Park – streaks they are surely ready to bust.
Come the 2011 season and both sides have started slower than they would have anticipated. The Titans have won just three games in the opening two months and are 11th on the ladder. The Warriors are ninth with four wins.
But both sides had victories last weekend; for the Warriors it was their second on the trot, bringing confidence into this clash. The Gold Coast beat the Roosters while the Warriors took care of Penrith.
Titans fans have been devastated by the news that hooker Nathan Friend has undergone shoulder surgery, ruling him out for an indefinite period. In his place comes Riley Brown.
Prop Matthew White has earned a starting spot, despite being charged with high-range drink driving this week, moving Michael Henderson to the bench. Kayne Lawton, another hooker, has been added to a five-man interchange.
The home side will be sweating on the safe return of second-rower Mark Minichiello from the City-Origin team to play on Friday night.
The Warriors have named the same line-up that took apart Penrith but Lance Hohaia, Lewis Brown, Simon Mannering, Ben Matulino and Sam Rapira will need to get through Test duty for New Zealand on Friday night to take their places on Sunday.
Watch Out Titans: The Warriors are coming to hunt the edges in attack after statistics reveal the Titans are the equal worst team in the NRL at letting in tries on the fringes.
With 19 tries conceded on the edges – 10 on the left and nine on the right – the Gold Coast are on par with Cronulla as the worst sides in the competition in these areas. Decision-making has been the major problem, as Gold Coast defenders struggle to determine whether a ball is coming short or going wide.
The Warriors have already scored seven tries on the left fringe in 2011 (ranked 4th) and eight tries on the right fringe (ranked 4th) so the Titans need to do something quickly, or face massive issues.
Danger Sign: Lewis Brown is a destroyer on the edges, having scored on both sides of the field already this year. The Titans’ defenders need to keep an eye on where he roams, as chances are he might get the ball on an edge close to the line.
Watch Out Warriors: William Zillman has become a shining light for the Titans at five-eighth, with his speed causing all sorts of headaches for opposition teams. There is arguably no quicker player off the mark in the competition (imagine a foot race with Jamie Soward or Glen Fisiiahi… wow) than Zillman and it has helped him to six tries now.
With six line-breaks and an average 101 metres a week, he seems to have found his calling.
The Warriors might not be as worried about his play making skills as they are when it comes to Scott Prince and Preston Campbell, but if they allow him even a sliver of space he’ll take it with open arms.
Danger Sign: When Campbell slides into the line and draws in defenders it means Zillman is about to get one-on-one with someone… whoever that is had better have the afterburners ready to be switched on!
Plays To Watch: Greg Bird’s late offloads; Kevin Locke’s explosive counter-attack; David Mead’s speed in the centre of the ruck; James Maloney’s support play and tactical kicking; Scott Prince’s short kicks.
Where It Will Be Won: Ball security. It is no secret the Gold Coast have struggled early this year because of their high error rate. Giving up way too much possession has meant they haven’t been able to mount efficient attacking raids.
Statistics show they have committed the most handling errors before the third tackle with 78 already this season – how can a team compete when they don’t get anywhere near the back end of their sets?
Overall they have tallied 116 errors – also the most in the NRL at 14.5 a game. The Warriors have 93 for the year so far, or 11.5 a game – three less on average. Obviously the team that plays disciplined rugby league with ball in hand, gets the quality field position, and makes the most of it, will walk away victorious.
The History: Played 8; Titans 6, Warriors 2. The Titans are on a six-game winning streak against the Warriors, having lost the first two matches between the clubs. The two sides met three times last season, including in the first week of the finals when the Titans dumped the Warriors from the competition with a 28-16 win. The sides have met four times at Skilled Park – and the Warriors are still to register a win there.
Conclusion: The loss of Nathan Friend is massive for the Titans. It was no surprise they started to play better when he was back on the paddock. Consequently, Riley Brown or Kayne Lawton have huge shoes to fill.
The attacking combination with Prince, Campbell and Zillman is getting better but without someone seriously threatening around the ruck it’s much easier for oppositions to shut them down.
But, as the home side, they can be given a little lean – especially given the Warriors’ poor record here. But it really is a close contest. The Warriors were solid but not spectacular last week, making it a little harder to have full confidence in them.
Match officials: Referees – Jared Maxwell & Jason Robinson; Touch Judges – David Abood & Adam Gee; Video Ref – Phil Cooley.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live 2pm.
* Statistics: NRL Stats.