Titans v Sea Eagles
Remember the Titans? The team that knew how to soak up pressure and bounce back from the wrong side of the scoreboard in matches better than most?
Yeah, we remember; it was only last year. But with every game of the 2011 season those recollections grow dimmer than a Darius Boyd post-match interview.
With just three wins from nine games the Titans languish in 14th place on the NRL ladder. Their form of late has been a little Jekyll-and-Hyde – a rousing 20-14 win at home in Round 6 followed by a deflating 22-18 loss to the struggling Eels. Then came further promise with a demolition of the Roosters, before last week’s demoralising home loss to the Warriors, who had several players backing up from Test duty. They’re catching a wave, but seemingly are just not able to ride it.
Meanwhile the Sea Eagles are performing pretty much as expected. They sit in fourth place with a 6-3 win record, the Raiders their latest victims after a merciless 20-0 thrashing on a quagmire Brookvale Oval last Monday night. The game was notable for Brett Stewart’s return after a five-game injury absence, the star fullback registering a try hat-trick to take his career tally to 101.
Personnel-wise the home side welcomes back Luke Bailey – who re-signed during the week for two more years, tying him to the club through 2013 – as a starting prop, with Michael Henderson reverting to the bench. Mark Minichiello and Ben Ridge swap their roles from last week, with Minichiello starting in the second row and Ridge benched.
Sea Eagles co-captain Jason King returns at prop, with George Rose dropping to the bench. Jamie Buhrer will play as an interchange, with Joe Galuvao starting in the second row.
Watch Out Titans: Errors are killing the Titans and they aren’t recovering the way they have in recent years. The Titans rank rock bottom for dropped balls and turnovers with 14 a game. This has put pressure on their defence, and they’re now missing 34 tackles a game in 2011. Meanwhile the Sea Eagles rank middle of the road for errors with 11.9 – but miss the second fewest tackles of all teams by just 0.1 per cent to the Melbourne Storm (26.1 to 26.2).
Conceding offloads is also hurting them. Last week the Warriors put them to the sword on the back of 36 offloads that triggered second-phase play. The Sea Eagles are making almost 13 a game, ranking them among the league leaders.
Kieran Foran continues to grow in the No.6 jersey for the Sea Eagles. The Kiwi showed his wonderful versatility slipping into halfback for the Kiwis last Friday before leading the way against the Raiders last Monday. The 20-year-old ranks among the leading five-eighths for line-break assists (with six, ranked second), tackle-breaks (24, ranked third) and try assists (eight, ranked fourth). He continues to take the pressure off Jamie Lyon, who has shouldered much of the playmaking burden at Brookvale in recent years.
Danger Sign: Brett Stewart’s hat-trick last week would still be giving Titans coach John Cartwright heart palpitations. The speedy No.1 has crossed six times in only four outings against the Gold Coast. A double here would see him become the seventh Sea Eagle to notch multiple four-pointers in three consecutive games against the same team.
Watch Out Sea Eagles: For all their faults in 2011 the Titans still boast immense speed in their backline. Five-eighth William Zillman ranks fourth for tries with six, just ahead of centre Steve Michaels, while David Mead (176 metres last week, with seven tackle-breaks and three line-breaks) has really come into his own in the past fortnight, bagging four tries.
Then there’s jack-in-the-box Preston Campbell; he had one of his five worst career games against the Warriors (with three howling errors) and will be desperate to make amends for home fans who struggled through last week.
Bodene Thompson is a bit of a ‘sleeper’ talent in the centres – last week he was a standout in a beaten side, running 93 metres with two try assists and five offloads.
Danger Sign: Preston Campbell likes nothing more than lining up against the Sea Eagles – he is ranked 10th for all-time tackle-breaks (614) and has averaged almost four every time he plays them, his most against any opponent.
Plays To Watch: Luke Bailey yelling ‘follow me, boys!” and charging into the opposition; Preston Campbell seizing the initiative and sparking some raids from long range; Scott Prince getting more involved than he has been recently – his grubber behind the Manly defence should feature prominently providing the side can work into the required field position; David Mead’s electrifying speed; Kieran Foran’s magnificent creativity; Steve Matai’s offloads; Brett Stewart trailing Daly Cherry-Evans and Foran around like a nagging, hungry toddler in a supermarket.
Where It Will Be Won: Individual performances that spark a united effort. The Titans need to get inspiration from somewhere and possibly Bailey’s return could be the catalyst.
There are intriguing match-ups throughout: Campbell v Stewart; Michael Robertson v David Mead; Foran v Prince (not the same positions but each will be depended on as the key playmaker).
The Titans need a lot more from their ruck players if they are to get back into winning mode. Last week hooker Riley Brown made a modest 45 receives, with Preston Campbell registering a team-high 49 in the No.1 jersey – Campbell is a part-time player these days and he simply had too much on his plate.
But ultimately they need Scott Prince to step up. The captain’s figures aren’t all that flash. Last year he was among the best halfbacks for conjuring line-break assists (19 – ranked third) and try assists (25 – ranked second). This year he’s a lowly 11th for line-break assists (just two) and 13th for try assists (three). His missed tackles continue to mount too – he has 30 through nine games compared to 70 through 21 games in 2010.
The History: Played 7, Sea Eagles 4, Titans 3. The Titans have won three of the past four games between the sides, including both games in 2010 – the last encounter a 28-10 win at home. At Skilled Park the ledger favours the home side 2-1.
Conclusion: The Titans are certainly capable of matching it with the Sea Eagles but unfortunately based on their recent form we would be guessing if that was going to be the case this week. We’d say the home ground advantage could be a deciding factor – except they’ve lost three of five games at home so far.
Having said that… we have a hunch this could be the Titans’ night. You’ve been warned.
Match Officials: Referees – Gavin Badger & Adam Devcich; Sideline Officials – Michael Wise & Henry Perenara; Video Ref – Chris Ward.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live 7pm.
* Statistics: NRL Stats.